Blu-Ray Review: Fritz Lang’s ‘M’ Has Lost None of Its Power

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CHICAGO – When does a great film become less powerful? We’ve all seen movies that worked wonderfully for us at one point in our lives and had less impact when we saw them again a decade or two later. The movies that not only remain powerful but, in some ways, improve upon repeat viewing are rare. They’re the true classics. Fritz Lang’s “M,” recently released on Criterion Blu-ray, is one such movie. Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

Watching “M” again in this glorious Criterion transfer, I was stunned at the timeless nature of the film. Yes, there is undeniable commentary on ’30s Germany and the rise of the Nazi party that thematically dates the film a bit and a few technical elements, but if someone released “M” on the big screen tomorrow, we’d still call it a masterpiece. It feels so much more current than a vast majority of the films of its era. The film is almost eight decades old but remains incredibly of the moment.

One of the reasons for that is that Lang’s thriller has influenced SO much of what has come in the near-century since its release. Often credited with creating both the thriller and the procedural, “M” is a master class in visual storytelling. With his first talkie, Lang wisely didn’t stray too far from what worked for him in silent film, as so much of what works about “M” would have worked without dialogue.

M was released on Blu-ray on May 11th, 2010.
M was released on Blu-ray on May 11th, 2010.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

“M” tells the story of a child murderer (Peter Lorre) in 1930 Germany. The deranged serial killer holds the attention of an entire country as children are kept at home, the police force is moblized, and even organized crime becomes involved in trying to capture this maniac. With very deliberate pace, Lang tells a story as interested in the pursuit and capture of a criminal as the actual crimes. To me, “M” is about the ripple effect of murder in the panic, fear, and general dismay caused within an entire populous.

It is one of the most expertly made films of its era. From a structural standpoint, Lang influenced countless filmmakers, most of whom weren’t even born when “M” came out. Just watch the “capture” scene on the Criterion Blu-ray, as Hans Beckert, the killer, is marked, chased, and trapped in an empty office building. It’s amazing.

M was released on Blu-ray on May 11th, 2010.
M was released on Blu-ray on May 11th, 2010.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

The whole film looks incredible under Criterion’s HD mastering one that includes a newly restored digital transfer with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.

This is one of those rare situations where I would recommend buying a Blu-ray just for the film itself. Everyone should own “M”. But, of course, Criterion never skimps on special features and have included one of their best collections, a series of extras that perfectly enhance the experience of the film through education about its production and some amazingly entertaining material.

It’s hard to pick a favorite but one of the most interesting special features is one that was lost for decades. In the era of “M,” foreign language films were often “remade” in other languages with a combination of reshoots, dubbed scenes, and original scenes cut together for international audiences. The French version of “M” had been previously available but the English version had been missing until recently. It’s included in its entirety and it’s fascinating what they thought of English audiences even back then, simplifying Lang’s story and draining it of a lot of its power.

Other great special features include a documentary by William Friedkin that includes a lengthy interview with Lang before his death, a commentary by German film scholars Anton Kaes and Eric Rentschler, Claude Chabrol’s “M le maudit” (a short film inspired by “M”), a video interview with Harold Nebenzal (son of “M” producer Seymour), classroom audiotapes of “M” editor Paul Falkenberg discussing the film and its history, a documentary on the physical history of “M,” and a gallery of behind-the-scenes photographs and production sketches. All of them are worth a look. It’s one of the best collections of special features in the Criterion Collection.

And “M” is one of the best films. There’s not much more I can add to the eight-decade conversation about the quality of this film other than to say that if you don’t buy it on Blu-ray, you’re not really a classic movie fan.

‘M’ is released by The Criterion Collection and stars Peter Lorre. It was written by Thea von Harbou and directed by Fritz Lang. It was released on Blu-ray on May 11th, 2010. It is not rated. content director Brian Tallerico

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