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M

Screening on Film
Directed by Fritz Lang.
With Peter Lorre, Ellen Windmann, Inge Landgut.
Germany, 1931, 35mm, black & white, 117 min.
German with English subtitles.
Print source: Kino International

There is nothing tentative in M: not the use of sound to expand the visible frame, nor the implied links between mass culture and mass murder, nor the canny deployment of the serial killer story to reveal the organizing structures of a world in which, as Anton Kaes puts it, “nothing [is] left to chance but death.” Embodied with an uncanny and twitching malaise by Brecht actor Peter Lorre, the child murderer is himself childish: a whistling flaneur who seems less a Mabusian master of destinies than a slave to his own dark impulses. For much of the film he is a cipher for the dual investigations of police and criminals, their respective regimes of detection and surveillance converging in a darkly prescient picture of a law beyond the law. Footage of Lorre’s climactic confession would later be incorporated into the infamous Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew as “proof” of the Jewish actor’s leading audiences towards a dangerously ambiguous reading of legal justice.

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