If I graded on technical merit alone, M would warrant five stars. Director Fritz Lang’s formal mastery belies his experience. This was his first sound picture, yet he’s already innovating, delivering possibly the first instance of cross-cutting dialogue in cinema.
But I grade on my relative enjoyment of a film. Unfortunately for M, besides birthing innovations in sound, it also birthed one of my least favored genres: the police procedural.
M’s story of the hunt for a child-killer in Berlin proffers no mystery, revealing Lorre’s identity at the outset. Instead, the film focuses on the manhunt, cutting between the police and the criminal underground’s efforts to find the culprit. I derive no interest or pleasure in watching the intricacies of police work, so these sections proved tedious. The third act wows, but the journey takes a while.
I don’t regret watching it. Peter Lorre’s performance held me rapt, and I appreciated the allusions to (and condemnation of) Nazism and the sheer craft on display. But the film left me cold, with no interest in revisiting it later.