Watching Old Movies: M (1931)

1931

Highest Grossing Film: Frankenstein- $12,000,000

Best Picture: Cimarron

What happened this year?

Bunch of little things. The Empire State Building was completed, the Star-Spangled Banner was officially adopted as the US National Anthem, the movie versions of Dracula and Frankenstein were released, starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff respectively (Sorry, already seen them so I won’t be covering them on this list (They are both great though.)), the Geneva Convention became a thing, Jehova’s Witnesses also became a thing and Al Capone was sentenced to 11 years in jail for tax evasion.

One minor story I did notice , however, was that this was the year that Adolf Hitler’s niece, Geli Raubal committed suicide in Hitler’s apartment. I did a little more investigation and honestly it’s a pretty fucked up story. To sum it up simply, Adolf Hitler was every bit a domineering fuckwad in his personal life as you would assume and more or less took strict control of his niece’s life against her will. And while nothing was ever proven, there was evidence to suggest that Hitler’s interest in her wasn’t purely familial. (He did actively declare that she was ‘the only woman he had ever loved’.)

So yeah, it turns out that people who control and abuse women kinda end up being assholes and monsters. Whodda thunk it.

As for famous births, we got Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, living pile of human feces Rupert Murdock, Desmond Tutu and James Dean.

Neat. Onto the pre-show.

Pre-Show: Egyptian Melodies

My Thoughts:

Eh. This was kind of a disappointment, honestly. I picked this short because it looked like the spiritual successor to 1929’s Skeleton Dance (which is one of my personal favourite cartoon shorts). And in that regard, I was kinda correct, because this short is definitely trying to ape the Skeleton Dance. The problem is that it’s less a spiritual successor and more a shitty sequel than anything else.

Honestly, it was missing almost every bit of visual ingenuity and fun that made the Skeleton Dance work. Where the Skeleton Dance deftly sets the tone for the scenes to come, Egyptian Melodies just has a dog-spider thing going down a series of long corridors. Where the Skeletons have a unique and interesting way of moving and using their bones in the dance, the mummies merely flop about.

And it’s clear that the short more or less had no ideas for Egyptian things to use other than mummies and hieroglyphics. And sure, while you could get some interesting moments out of both of those, this short is content just to repeat the same shit over and over, in spite of it never being that interesting in the first place.

While I’m not going to say this is the worst thing ever, the animation is fine and it has a bit of a catchy beat to it, this is honestly a pretty big letdown after Swing you Sinners. Everything it does, the Skeleton Dance does better. Ah well, maybe the next Disney cartoon will be more interesting. C-

Main Feature: M

m-movie-poster-1931-1010349709.jpg

Plot:  In Germany, Hans Beckert is a serial killer of children (played by the ever-lovable Peter Lorre). He whistles Edvard Grieg’s ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’, while attracting said children for death of the most horrible offscreen kind. The police force naturally go on a massive manhunt for this killer, which inconveniences the local organised crime circuit. To get the police off their backs, the criminals, dressed in their best Nazi longcoats, try to catch the murderer and try him on their own grounds…

Trivia: Fritz Lang asserted that he cast real criminals for the court scene in the end. According to biographer Paul Jensen, 24 cast members were arrested during filming. (I don’t know why this makes me laugh so much, but it does.)

My Thoughts:

M is the sort of movie where I entirely get why people love it so much. There’s so much great about it and so much that works and creates such a strong atmosphere with excellent performances and very little that I can think of to criticise it. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of like Hell or High Water for me, where even though I can’t think of much I disliked about it and there’s plenty I can appreciate, it just never really clicked for me in a way that made me love it.

Seriously though, I’m somewhat of two minds as to whether or not I preferred this to Metropolis. Like I said, this is certainly an overall stronger production than Metropolis in terms of storytelling and plotting and direction and so on, but there were scenes in Metropolis that really wowed me in a way that I don’t think this movie ever quite managed.

Honestly, I’m a little unsure as to why I didn’t love this movie more. Again, there’s really not much I can think of that’s all that wrong about it. It creates strong tension, sets up a great mood of fear and paranoia, really captures the panic and grief of mourning parents, manages to avoid the trap of glorifying the criminal elements hunting the serial killer, making more than clear to the audience that these people are all also horrible in their own ways, the acting is great (especially Peter Lorre who did his damndest to persuade us to sympathise with a child-murdering monster (even if he didn’t quite succeed in my case) and overall, I don’t have much in way of glaring flaws with it. I just didn’t quite fall in love with it that I have with others on this list.

Best theory I can come up with is that I watched a lot of police procedurals when I was kid and thus have become somewhat dulled to the whole investigative angle, but even that doesn’t quite hold water because this is clearly put together a hell of a lot better than any standard police procedural. The best I can say is that I definitely liked it, but just didn’t love it. Still more than merits a B+ though.

Feature Rankings (1930s):

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-
  2. M- B+

Short Rankings (1930s):

  1. Swing, you Sinners- A
  2. Egyptian Melodies- C-

 

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