Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M (1951)

Oddly dismal remake of the 1931 Fritz Lang masterpiece, updated to 1950s Los Angeles. Joseph Losey, whose fourth feature film this was, borrows heavily from the look of Lang's original throughout, but combines this with a more naturalistic approach taking advantage of the LA filming locations. The result is stylistically uneven, though Losey does add some interesting touches of his own, particularly in the scenes of the child murderer stalking his victims, which employ creative cutting and sound (most notably the unsettling, cackling howls of the Laffing Sal attraction on the Santa Cruz boardwalk right before little Elsie is killed).

In light of Losey's blacklisting later in 1951, it's tempting to consider the film's conclusion as an indictment of McCarthy-era witchhunts, building on Lang's powerful condemnation of lynch mob justice. David Wayne as the child murderer is effective enough, though he perhaps inevitably lacks the intensity and desperate, pathetic qualities that Peter Lorre brought so memorably to the role in the original, making his final testimony before the mob in the kangaroo court less harrowing.

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