M (Murderer Among Us) continued

Lorre wanders the busy streets, and pauses to gaze in a display window with reflections of rows of knives. The knives frame him, separating and isolating him from the rest of the world by his inhuman urges, and his next potential victim is first shown to him (and the audience) by a reflection of her in the window, surrounded by rows of knives. When he is marked by the chalk M on his back, it is fitting that he sees the "mark of Cain" upon himself in the reflection of a mirror, pointed out to him by his next potential victim, so unaware of the danger she is in that she picks up his dropped murder weapon and hands it back to him.

Realizing that he himself is being stalked, the murderer deserts the child he is stalking and runs into an office building that is closing down for the night. The criminals perform an organized assault on the building, neatly subduing the night security, and setting up a methodic and thoughral search in an amazingly short space of time. The parallel between the heads of the police and the criminal element is taken even farther when Shranker masquerades as a policeman to gain entrance to the building. As the army of criminals track down the murderer and corner him in the deserted office building, the animal motif reappears in the film: they spread out methodically looking for him much like a group of hunters beating through the bushes at a pheasant hunt, and when Lorre is found he freezes in a single beam of illumination, startled and wide-eyed like a deer in the headlights.

As the head of police reads the report on the apparently unconnected burglary at the office building, Lang again uses voice-overs on a series of still shots to tell the story and the captain's reaction to it. Lang uses shots of the empty devastation in the building, room by room, silent save for the captain's comments as he reads on and assimilates what he's read: "Did they intent to empty the whole place?... This is madness... Ah, now it makes sense. They were after the safe... They didn't open the safe? And that safe not touched either. What were they doing?". He uses this effect again to show the captain is lying when he implies to the captured safe-cracker that he will be brought up on murder charges by implying that "they did their work too well... The night watchman", then cutting to the night watchman at home, stuffing himself at a well-laden table while guzzling a large beer.
Later in a comic touch, when the captain is told that they were searching the building for the kinder murderer, the pipe slips from his mouth, and he is so shocked and excited that he has to go and run cold water on his neck before he can continue.

The last scene of the film consists of a detailed mock trial. The murderer is dragged in kicking and screaming, but he freezes in mid-word when he is confronted with a wall of silent, accusing faces, a sea of hateful eyes. In another parallel of the criminals and the police, when Lorrre objects to a mock trial, and cries they have no right to do this to him, Shranker replies, "You'll get your rights. We are all law experts here. From six weeks in Tegel to fifteen years in Brandenberg. We'll see that you get justice". In their eyes, justice is a much harsher mistress than it is perceived by the average law-abiding citizen. Lorre's "lawyer" points out that Shranker is hardly equipped to accuse Lorre when he is wanted by the police for three murders himself.
Lorre's final scene is a monumental tour-de-force performance. At first he denies everything, trying to be the picture of wronged innocence, but his accusors are masters of false indignation in the face of authority figures, and as they show him picture after picture of his victims, he screams and panics like a wild animal in a trap trying to chew off it's own leg to get free. Lorre shows the parallels and inherent differences between him and his accusers when he says "You didn't have to turn to crime to live. You all could have learned a trade and gone to work for a living. You are all criminals because you want to be. But me, what choice do I have? I can't help myself. It is this evil thing inside me." Finally on his knees, he describes what it is like to be tormented by the terrors of the mind, unable to find peace except when he kills. The faces in the mob only seem to get uglier as they get more bloodthirsty, telling him it's exactly because of his uncontrollable compulsions that he must die. When he cries "but it'll be murder, cold-blooded murder!", they only laugh at the gruesome irony of his statement. The mothers speak of enduring tortures far greater than his as they waited the long days hoping against hope, only to have their hopes dashed as it became certain that their children's lives had been callously snuffed out, and several women stand out as the most bloodthirsty members of the crowd. In the final shots of the film, the police that he had previously taunted with his letters and looked at with contempt and fear for their efforts to track him down at the end become his saviors; only when he is about to be torn to pieces do the authorities arrive to rescue him. The final shot shows a group of grieving mothers asking the unanswerable question "And if they take his life? Will that bring our babies back to us?". They may have ended his crime spree, but nothing has changed in the society that created him, and so it is inevitable that eventually other madmen will take his place. Although both forensic and psychological sciences have advanced in the decades since this film was made, it still stands up very well as a detailed "semi-documentary" style portrait of a disturbed mind and the society that helped create it, the methodology of the law enforcement system of the time, as well as an insightful study of the mob mentality that Lang pictured in many of his later films.


(1) From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer, 1947
(2) From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer, 1947
(3) A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin, 1971
(4) From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer, 1947

Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947
Mast, Gerald & Kawin, Bruce F., A Short History of the Movies. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1971

For educational use only. No rights given or implied.

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