“I’m sure it’s a man who looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

There is a child serial killer in Berlin. As with most child predators he offers them treats and gains their confidence. He then calmly walks them away. The city is on edge and parents don’t let their children play outside anymore. Eight children have been murdered in the last year. The killer taunts the city. Hand written letters are sent to the newspaper by the murderer.

Elsie Beckman is walking home from school and bouncing a ball. Her mother is expecting her home for lunch. A man tells her what a pretty ball she has and asks her name. He buys her a balloon from a blind vendor and takes her hand. He whistles the tune “In the Hall of the Mountain King” as they walk away. Elsie never makes it home for lunch.

The police are being inundated with tips and suspects. Neighbors are suspicious of neighbors as well as strangers. Anyone who even looks at a child is under suspicion. Tempers flare and accusations fly. The city is in fear. With no clues for the police to go on, the public is taking things into their own hands. It’s affecting everyone. Even criminals are feeling the strain. With the heightened police activity normal criminal activity is being affected. Even the bad guys want him caught.

The heads of the various criminal organizations decide to have a meeting to see what can be done about all the cops interfering with their enterprises. They decide that the only thing they can do is catch the child murderer themselves. They need to make sure that every child is watched and followed. But who is invisible enough to follow a child without coming under suspicion? Beggars. They must contact the beggars union and get them to cooperate or they will all go out of business.

“M” AKA “M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder” was released in 1931 and was directed by Fritz Lang. This was Lang’s first sound film. Two-thirds of the film was shot with sound, the remaining third was shot silent. Adding sound to your film was quite expensive at the time so to keep costs in check Lang left portions silent. Lang liked the result. It gave the silent portions and eerier quality. I agree. A cost saving measure became an artistic nuance.

The movie was banned in Germany in 1934. The organization of beggars in the film actually existed in Berlin at the time. Fritz Lang said that he actually used criminals as extras in the film. It is reported that 24 cast members were arrested during the filming of the movie.

The first introduction of Peter Lorre's character, Franz Becker, is the sound of his whistling. It is one of the very first times that a musical theme was used to signify a character. Called a leitmotif it is typical of a devise used in operas by artists such as Richard Wagner.

Peter Lorre was Jewish and fled Germany in fear of Nazi persecution shortly after the movie's release. Fritz Lang, who was half Jewish, fled two years later.

Two German serial killers mentioned in the film were real. George Karl Grossman was a serial killer and cannibal. It was believed he killed up to 50 women. He committed suicide before giving a full confession. Fritz Haarmann, known as the Butcher of Hanover, sexually assaulted, killed, dismembered and mutilated at least 27 young men. He was beheaded and, as a bizarre fact, according to German practice at the time, lost his rights to citizenship.

Joseph Goebbels was said to have described the film as "fantastic, free of phony humanitarian sentiments". Really??? Aren’t you a sick puppy?

The movie is a powerful piece of film and quite haunting. Peter Lorre’s performance was phenomenal. The trial the criminals put on was fascinating. The entire film was one of the best I’ve ever seen. I saw the remake of the film directed in 1951 by Joseph Losey and staring a skinny David Wayne. They followed Lang’s screenplay pretty well, for the most part, but it’s the performance of Lorre and Lang’s special touch that makes the 1931 film better. Even in German the film is captivating. Lorre’s screen time is limited yet riveting. The remaining movie is the search for the murderer. Normally you would think that it would bog down but it only intensifies. I highly recommend this film. It was just a cool movie.