In this Americanization of the 1931 German thriller, both the police and the criminal underworld stalk a mysterious killer who preys on small children.In this Americanization of the 1931 German thriller, both the police and the criminal underworld stalk a mysterious killer who preys on small children.In this Americanization of the 1931 German thriller, both the police and the criminal underworld stalk a mysterious killer who preys on small children.
A killer is preying on small children in Los Angeles. The police, under pressure from civic authorities, are conducting daily raids on the criminal world. This causes all illegal business to come to a standstill. In order to bring things back to normal, the top crime bosses hold a meeting and decide that as the unknown killer is the reason for the increased police vigilance, they will catch the killer themselves using their city-wide network of informants. If they succeed, not only will it bring them relief from the police raids but public, too, will hail them as good Samaritans. The plan is put into motion. Meanwhile, the police are combing the case files of people with a history of mental illness and commitment to psychiatric institutions in the past. And all this time, the killer is getting restless, getting the urge to kill again. —Soumitra
M (Joseph Losey, 1951) ***
I commemorated the 25th anniversary from the death of director Joseph Losey (which occurred on 22nd June 1984) by watching his two best (and, ironically, rarest) Hollywood movies, both noirs made in 1951 – THE PROWLER and M. Fritz Lang's original 1931 version of the latter is not only generally considered to be its director's masterpiece but, on a personal note, is also included in my all-time Top 20 movies. Therefore, I had always been particularly interested in seeing how Losey (another director I admire a great deal) had tackled the daunting task of remaking – and relocating to L.A. – such an iconic German movie. Boasting the original's own producer, Seymour Nebenzal, the 1951 remake has been almost impossible to see and, actually, I only managed to track down a mediocre-looking print a few months ago; even so, I am certainly grateful to have been given the opportunity to catch up with it especially in view of the fact that Sony's long-rumored Joseph Losey box set on R1 did not materialize after all! Perhaps inevitably, the film's initial stages (the murder of little Elsie) closely resemble those of Lang's film – even down to the choice of camera set-ups: the high angle shot down an eerily desolate flight of stairs, the close-up of the vacant breakfast table, the tell-tale shots of a solitary flying balloon and a rolling ball – but Losey nevertheless manages to gradually make the film his own, culminating in a trademark hysterical finale that highlights a new character not featured in the original: Luther Adler's alcoholic attorney who is, ill-advisedly, moved to turn against his boss Martin Gabel after the baby-killer's confession. David Wayne – best-known until then for playing lightly comic roles – is quite good in his own right (especially during the aforementioned trial sequence) if, understandably, falling short of Peter Lorre's unforgettable original characterization; similarly (and effectively) cast against type, Howard Da Silva makes for a fine Chief of Police, while the sterling supporting cast includes Raymond Burr (also atypically amusing as a raspy-voiced, leading underworld thug), Steve Brodie (as a sadistic cop), Glenn Anders and Jim Backus (as the mayor)! Interestingly enough, two directors-to-be were employed in minor capacities on this film: assistant director Robert Aldrich and script supervisor Don Weis. Allegedly, Fritz Lang balked at Nebenzal's offer to direct the remake himself and never forgave Losey for daring to touch his magnum opus he must have conveniently forgotten the fact that he had himself remade in Hollywood two Jean Renoir classics – LA CHIENNE (1931) and LA BETE HUMAINE (1938) – as SCARLET STREET (1945) and HUMAN DESIRE (1954) respectively!
- Jul 5, 2009
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