M (1931) – Ace Mini-Review

M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M)
Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Gründgens
Written by: Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Germany, 1931

How good is this movie?

One of the most important and influential movies ever made. Part police procedural, part heist film, part courtroom drama, it’s solidly entertaining. It is also unsettling and thought-provoking, with a perspective on crime, mental illness, justice, and power that is brave even by 21st-century standards. This is not a simple story of brave heroes defending the innocent from an evil villain. It’s nuanced at every turn with portrayals of public hysteria and finger-pointing; acknowledgements of how the police abuse their power; and difficult questions about the nature of free will. The directing style makes effective use of understatement, and the lack of music only enhances the film’s moodiness. And, of course, Peter Lorre is unforgettable in his iconic performance.

How ace is this movie?

Although M does not deal with asexuality, its treatment of sexual deviance allows it to raise questions about the privileged place of heterosexuality in a patriarchal society. Cops and criminals alike see themselves as morally superior to the murderer. However, they, too, commit acts of violence, and the fact that they don’t molest children could simply be because their sexual inclinations do not lie in that direction. One is tempted to ask how willing they would be to give up sex with their wives, mistresses, and the many prostitutes available to them, and whether men who are socially enabled to have as much sex as they want can truly claim moral superiority. The film does not push these questions, however. Its real subversive power is more subtle, lying in its failure to glorify the law-abiding, heterosexual male citizens who should be its “heroes”.

5 Stars; 3 Aces

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