#72: M (1931)

When and how did I watch this?

December 4th, 2016, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

The last Fritz Lang film I saw was Metropolis, and it blew my mind.  Another Lang film, and it’s “better”?  High expectations for sure.

What do I know about it now?

Everyone is human.  This is not made wholly clear in most films because most of them deal with people that “rise above” and grit out impossible odds, or live on the outskirts of the sanity spectrum, absorbing themselves into the tasks at hand and employing their quirks. This film is about a town of humans and a crime. The police are overwhelming everyone — it looks a lot like what we know as Nazi Germany — as they look for a child serial killer in their midst, checking citizens for papers as they walk out of bars and making flippant accusations at the expense of their liberties, which many of the ugly citizens mock.  The citizens themselves are going insane — “is it safe to let my children roam the streets anymore?” — and they round up and publicly shame anyone that looks remotely suspicious. A group of vigilantes — ironically, an assembly of grotesque figures and fellow criminals — takes matters into their own hands and ransacks a commercial building when they spot the suspect.  They successfully round him up, evading police long enough to berate the man to the point of tears.  And then something strange happens: we see the roots of the justice system, a man pleading for his life, saying that he simply cannot help it.  We fall in love with this man.  He is understood. There are huge silences throughout the film, intentionally. We’re left in a room for a time with men pondering their next actions, sporadically coming up with ideas to filter through the city and find the suspect, but really saying nothing at all. It’s a film of disorder, but strangely a film of justice, for it pinpoints the true nature of humanity in a nearly degenerate environment.  Call it a low-caste version of The Hunt.

What are some themes in the film?

Compulsion, justice, humanity

Did this affect me personally?

For much of the film, I felt uneasy.  The film was smoky throughout, much of the roads and interiors “we” visited wer mucky and dilapidated. In short, I felt like I needed a shower in the end.

Why is this ranked #72?

It’s an important film, and still resonates as true today.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She watched some of it, and had to be “caught up”.  I don’t think she got the full effect.

Would I watch it again?

Yes indeed.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

It’s easy to dismiss subtitled/foreign films, and much older films at that, but the movie is gripping from start to finish.  You’ll be entertained and simultaneously disgusted.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

No question.  I don’t know much about film history, but I’ve been alive long enough to know when a society has broken down, and when mob rule, whether it’s organized or from the depths of filth, begins to form, and we see this very clearly in this film.  We see the beginnings of Nazi Germany, abject poverty, and a man caught in between, begging for mercy. The question wasn’t whether he was truly guilty, but what, in this environment, to do with him.

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