Today! Because I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the torment –
Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Paul Kemp, Georg John, Gustaf Grundgens, Theo Lingen, Fritz Odemar
The shortest title on the list, and quite possibly the greatest movie ever made, M is far from a cuddly story. A German city is beset by a whistling child murderer, and loses its collective mind with fear. The movie follows the town’s descent into paranoia and vengeance, hunting this faceless killer, as the police and the town’s other criminal elements concoct their own strategies to ferret him out.
The wonderfully gloomy atmosphere, highlighted by the dark, dank streets and perpetual shadows, adds to the almost unbearable tension of the pace, as society verges on collapse through mutual distrust and frustration. But then, when the plot feels like it has to spiral off in a different direction lest risk the movie boiling over, the targeted manhunt commences. Peter Lorre will never get the due he deserves as an actor, and never is he better than as the soft, baby faced killer, driven by his ugly, confused desires and desperation to escape the howling mob. Lorre would become famous stateside for his roles as weasel-y con man and lowlifes in Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Arsenic and Old Lace, but he was capable of much more, including this almost pitiable monstrosity, Hans Beckert. Old time radio fan that I am, if you want some really great Lorre performances, seek out his Mystery in the Air anthology series from the late ’40s, sponsored by Camel cigarettes!
But yes, and I don’t throw the designation around lightly – this movie is squarely in my argument for the best film ever made. Now, I don’t think I’ll ever seriously attempt that manner of list – who has even seen enough movies to claim they can accurately concoct such a list? This being just my favorites, if someone comes to me when it’s completed and says “Yeah, but what about Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift? What about Xanadu? What about The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?”, my saying “I haven’t seen them” should be more than enough, for a favorites list. But if I’m all “M is the greatest movie in history,” and one of you clowns comes at me with “Yeah, but what about The Red Shoes” and I’m all “I haven’t seen it,” how are you supposed to give my opinion on quality any weight whatsoever? And then I could get caught in an endless spiral of this sort, constantly having to seek out and watch whatever someone proclaims as their own Best Movie Ever Made, and that could stretch all the way down to fucking Tokyo Drift, who knows? So yeah, I’ve got M right up there, but there could certainly be hundreds of movies I would consider better, had I seen those movies. Like, does ‘The Best Movies I’ve Seen’ mean anything to anyone? Screw it!
(That being said, I could get super bored when this is all over and do something like that anyway. Don’t @ me with this whole argument I just made against doing that very thing.)
It appears there weren’t a ton of foreign film awards handed out back in 1931, as the only significant honor M received was as one of the Ten Best Foreign Films by the National Board of Review – in 1933. Get with the times, pre-WWII Germany! We were patting ourselves on the back long before then! If nothing else, Best Chalk Identification Assist would’ve made a nice trophy for Lang and company.