In this story of a serial child killer, we don't get our first extended glimpse of the murderer in question until halfway through the film, when various police and underworld figures are already tightening their nets around him. In a moment that can make your skin crawl, Peter Lorre, in one of the granddaddy of all psycho killer roles, spies a young girl through a store window mirror and wordlessly changes from a meek, unassuming citizen to a man with an uncontrollable urge for murder and perhaps more. It is just one moment from what is a brilliant, star-making performance for Lorre.
Director Fritz Lang was one of the early masters of sound technology, his angles and composition clearly inspiring directors such as Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, his use of sound showing more sophistication than most other filmmakers of the time. The dark, shadowy style of M foreshadows the film noir cycle of the '40s and '50s, a movement that featured Lang as one of its most talented proponents with films like SCARLET STREET and WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.
Although occasionally overly talky and featuring the use of silent speed footage that, as with Lewis Milestone's ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, might look a little strange to modern audiences, M still has an undeniable haunting power. You may never hear Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" again without feeling a little creepy. ½ - JB
M (1951 - with David Wayne in the Peter Lorre role)