In this day and age, terms such as “expressionist filmmaking” seem to be extinct and all but forgotten.Suspense and thrill have been replaced with CGI and recycled ideas.During the 1930’s horror really began to come into it’s own as a genre.In America Universal Studios released films such as Dracula and Frankenstein.The monster film drew in crowds by the thousands eagerly awaiting to be thrilled by tales of Gothic horror adapted to the silver screen.Actors such as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi became household words.
The Film Noire genre, also popular at the time gave the world dark and suspenseful thrillers.These were full of shady private investigators,femme fatales and stories that didn’t always end on a positive note.Both of these forms of film were heavily influenced by the German expressionist film movement, that emphasized the use of light and shadow.Sets that seemed somewhat unrealistic, as well as dark complex themes of death,darkness and a direct opposition to reality.The most famous of these films to emerge from Germany were F.W. Munau’s Nosferatu, and Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M.
The film is most memorable for it’s star.Hungarian born actor Peter Lorre.This was his first major starring role, and although he would have less than 18 lines of dialogue, it would be enough to forever cement his place in history as one of the horror genre’s earliest stars.In M he plays the role of a child murderer Hans Beckert, on the prowl in Weimar republic era Germany.He’s hunted not only by the police, but by the criminal underworld of Berlin.Who despite their own acts of criminal behavior, refuse to stand by and let innocent children be taken down by Beckert.
It’s quite difficult to break down and explain the plot to this film properly.If I did, you might not have a reason to go and watch this for yourself.One reason this film has such a powerful feel to it, is it almost foreshadows events to come.The film was released just 2 years before the Nazi’s would come to power, Throughout the entire course of events that unfold, there exists a lot of themes that would become reality during the 12 year reign of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
An oppressive and domineering police state relentlessly exerting force upon its citizens.The need for a scapegoat to hunt down and persecute.As well as the domineering paranoia of someone or something, lurking among the shadows that will prey upon our children when our backs are turned.In a sad ironic twist, The film was later used by the Nazi party as a propaganda tool.Lorre was Jewish and would escape to America by the time the Nazi’s came power.The film was used by the Nazi’s to show just how vile the Jewish people were, according to their ideology.One of the first cases of a horror film reflecting the atmosphere and events of the time period it was completed in.
Lang chose not to show any scenes depicting the death of children.He left everything up to imagination of the audience.He was one of the first directors to embrace the idea that real horror is what you on’t see.He also considered this film his finest work.I have no choice but to agree with that statement.Not only has it stood the test of time as one of the high water marks of the German expressionist movement, But it remains one of the greatest horror films of all time.