‘M’- Cinema’s First Serial Killer

‘M’ was produced in 1931 and introduces us to cinema’s first ever serial killer. It’s also the first “talkie” directed by an American-German director and was later used in Nazi propaganda films to illustrate the evils of sexual deviance. For all these reasons, it’s worth taking a look.

Life in a small German city has been disrupted by a series of murders. All the victims are children and the entire town is on the verge of hysteria. The Nazi police have no clues to work with so, in desperation, are raiding all the bars and brothels, not even sure what they’re looking for. Such attention is making it impossible for criminals to go about their business, and so they decide the only way to get things back on track is to find the murderer themselves.

TV comes from radio, film from the theatre, so it’s not surprising this brilliant cinematic idea gets a little lost to the screen and becomes more like a play. The sound is in fact excellent, but the complete absence of music is distracting after a while. No Country For Old Men got away with it, but they filled in the silence with Foley. Obviously the restorers of this film decided to keep it authentic and not add a ‘room tone’ track, so when the silence first hits it seems as if the sound has gone. However, in its absence, more attention is given to the screen, which is something filmmakers should think about the next time they blast us with overly loud music and unhelpful sound effects.

In 1931, a story about a serial killer was an idea ahead of its time, as is the concept of pitting the kriminell against the polizei , which is such a fascinating idea that it could make a film of its own. This is possibly why it seems to loose focus after a while, with too much going on and hordes of men flocking to so many places, it’s sometimes hard to keep track and we are robbed of the suspense that this genre should bring.

It’s also hard to decipher what message this film is trying to send but, in the end, it seems to be ‘whoever amongst you who is without sin, cast the first stone’. This works as a theme but it does make it rather difficult to get any action going in the finale as the courts who are going to try the murderer are made up of criminals and Nazis, neither of whom should be throwing anything.

RELEASE INFORMATION Now available on DVD and streaming