M – 1931

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the Internet, you know what it’s like to be caught up in the tornado that is looking for information on one thing and getting sucked into a totally different subject.  Yesterday, I watched the film The Man Who Knew Too Much.   After watching it and writing about it, I looked it up on Wikipedia where I started reading about the ORIGINAL film that starred Peter Lorre.  That information led me to Peter Lorre’s Wikipedia page which led me to a blurb about Lorre starting his film career in the movie M.  At the bottom of the Wikipedia page for M, there is a link to a page where you can watch it in its entirety – which I did today.

I’m not sure I would have ever found this film any other way.  My memory being what it is, I have vague memories of knowing of this film’s existence.  Truthfully, I’m more aware of the remake starring David Wayne (although I’ve never seen that version).  The condition of the video was good and I had 90 minutes free so I figured it would be a good choice for  my 25th film in this experiment.

Because the subject matter is so dark, I think subconsciously I was focusing on the little things.  It surprised me that in 1931 they “knocked on wood” for good luck and that they used a person’s name as a taunt.  (The lead Inspector is tauntingly greeted with the sing-song version of his name “Loh-mann.  Loh-mann”.)  It also struck me fascinating that all the way back then they worried that a guilty murderer could be set free by using the “insanity” defense.  I don’t live in a bubble but I guess I just assumed that these all were somehow related to a time closer to my own.

The directing of this film was really the most brilliant part of it.  I think sometimes good directing means you don’t actually pay attention to the directing, but in this case it was almost necessary (especially for me, given I’m not always great with subtitles).  This film was made in 1931 and I didn’t feel like it was dated at all.  The mother waiting for her daughter to come home was gut wrenching and I actually had tears in my eyes when Lang went to the table setting waiting for her to come home for lunch.

What genuinely surprised me was the scene where the criminals have Lorre trapped in the distillery and are giving him the opportunity to defend himself (complete with an appointed “lawyer”)…that Lorre’s monologue actually made me feel slightly sympathetic toward him was surprise enough but the fear that the criminals instilled when they were yelling things like “Kill the beast!” at him.  When he points out that they are criminals by choice but his isn’t a choice, I found myself thinking “Wow.  He actually might have a point”.

Lorre is just brilliant.  No other word to use.  I can’t believe this was his first film because his presence is just so powerful and effective.  He made me both hate him and have a bit of sympathy for him at the same time…didn’t see that happening when I originally read what the film was about.

It isn’t often that I watch a movie and think that the time I spent watching the movie was time well spent.  I’d say maybe every fourth or fifth film I see makes me feel this way.  This one definitely did.  I’ve kept the link to the film because, as disturbing as it was, I know I’d like to watch it again.

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