FRITZ LANG’S ‘M.’ (1931) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

fritz lang m

FRITZ LANG’S ‘M.’ (1931) DIRECTED BY FRITZ LANG. SCREENPLAY BY FRITZ LANG AND THEA VON HARBOU. STARRING PETER LORRE AND OTTO WERNICKE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘10,000 marks reward.

MISSING

Believed to have been murdered.

ELSIE BECKMANN.

Age 6-a-half years. Fair hair. Brown eyes. About 3 ft 4 in height. Last seen outside the Barclay School For Infants on April 14th at about ten minutes past twelve.

Any person able to supply information, please communicate with

CARL LOHMANN,

Chief of police or any police station.’

People are always calling ‘M’ Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. I love this film very much but I just want to point out that Fritz Lang’s ‘METROPOLIS’ exists too and might be an even better candidate for the title of this director’s actual masterpiece.

That’s not to say that ‘M,’ possibly the earliest film ever made on the disturbing and grisly subject of child murder and Fritz Lang’s first ever talkie, isn’t a masterpiece. It is, it absolutely is. But the guy can have two masterpieces, can’t he…? That’s all I’m saying, lol.

People usually think that the film is based on the murderous career of serial killer Peter Kurten, the so-called ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf,’ but Fritz Lang himself points out that Kurten was never an admitted child killer and also that the script for ‘M’ was already done and dusted before Kurten was ever apprehended. But serial killers did already exist back then, so it’s certainly more than possible that they gave Lang his idea for the film.

The German city in the film is a city living in terrible fear when the movie starts. A spate of child murders have the inhabitants on the edge of their seats, worrying themselves sick about their kiddies who are every day at risk from becoming the next murder statistic until this fellow is caught. And what won’t they do to the bastard when he is…! Temperatures run very, very high in the city at the moment.

In fact, the movie starts with a murder. Pretty, lively little Elsa Beckmann, the daughter of an impoverished and exhausted washerwoman, is cajoled away from her life by a man whose distinctive profile we first see against the background of one of the ‘WANTED! MURDERER!’ posters. It’s an effective introduction for the man the whole city is just longing to meet.

The images that imply Elsie’s death at the hands of this man, who jauntily whistles the theme from Grieg’s PEER GYNT while he lures the child casually away (his signature?), are stunning in their simplicity.

Her ball rolls away into a patch of wasteland; her new balloon is caught in some telegraph wires and flaps helplessly in the breeze. Two simple but strikingly powerful images, and pretty little Elsie Beckmann is lost to the world of man forever.

The whole city is up in arms. The police are working flat out to catch the killer. This is a good thing, right? Well, not, apparently, for certain elements of the city’s criminal fraternity.

They can’t take a step now without being caught up in a police raid to catch the child murderer. The constant police presence across the city is interfering big-time with their criminal activities. If this keeps up, they’ll be on the breadline, grumble grumble grumble. Ya gotta feel sorry for them.

A group of burglars and safecrackers, headed by a man who couldn’t look more like a Nazi if he tried, in his belted overcoat, hat, black gloves and stick (for whopping things…!), decide to catch the killer themselves and thereby loosen the coppers’ grip on the collar of the city’s criminal underbelly. Then they can go about their unlawful business in peace and quiet once more without the bleedin’ fuzz breathing down their necks all the livelong day.

The funny thing about all this is that the leader of this group, the guy in the Nazi overcoat (incidentally played by an actor who went on to have a rather succesful career under Nazi rule, so we’re not too far out), is wanted by the police on three separate counts of manslaughter.

But because the victims are presumably only adult males who got in the way of his criminal enterprises, then that’s totally okay, see? They weren’t little children. This gives us an idea of the special place reserved in hell (and in the minds of their peers) for the people who do harm to children.

The criminals, with the aid of the city’s population of beggars and down-and-outs, do actually manage to catch the murderer. They haul him in front of a secret kangaroo court consisting of criminals and their pals and there’s very much a feeling that these could tear the child murderer to shreds like wolves, if their leader so much as gives them the signal.

The man chosen to ‘defend’ the murderer brings up some very good points about the notion of capital punishment, the penalty for murder in those days. Should a man be penalised, he argues eloquently after a heartfelt speech from the murderer, if he has no control over his actions and is therefore not responsible for them? The kangaroo court are sceptical. They’re all for execution, and the sooner the better.

The counsel for the defence begs that the murderer be turned over to the police for justice to take place in a civilised fashion, rather than let him be subject to mob justice. We, the viewers, all probably know at this point that the murderer, rather than being summarily hanged or guillotined or shot by a firing squad, needs to be taken into protective custody, preferably in a mental hospital, and there analysed and given whatever treatment, if any, was available to the paedophiles of the day. The mob, however, might have other ideas…

Peter Lorre is brilliant here as You-Know-Who. His eyes are so big and expressive! He did an English language version of the film too, a version which up until only fairly recently was considered lost, and here he gives his first ever English-speaking performance in any movie ever. This makes it a very exciting discovery indeed for Peter Lorre aficionados.

The English language version of the film is a full twenty minutes shorter than the original German version, however, so for this reason I much prefer the German version with English subtitles. The two films have different, though similar, endings, if you get me, and the better ending of the two is in the German version, in my humble opinion.

The film really brings home to the viewer the vulnerability of children, the fact that they can be lured away from their parents, their friends, their homes, their schools and their very lives by an apple, a balloon, a piece of candy.

The kiddies in the film seem particularly impoverished, if Elsie Beckmann’s home and (I’m guessing) overworked single mother are anything to go by, so all the killer has to do is flash a toy or a few sweets to get the child to follow him anywhere he wants.

The spoilt brats of today with all their fabulous, expensive technology might be a little harder to lure away. You’d almost certainly have to be technology-savvy and offering something rather exceptional to get them to glance up, bored, from their iPads.

‘M’ is a truly haunting film. The lovely lost children, the terror of the murderer when faced with the kangaroo court, and the desolation of the downtrodden, impoverished mothers who’ve each lost children in this sinister way all combine to give us some genuinely disturbing images and memories that we won’t forget in a hurry. I can’t say exactly that you’ll enjoy the film, purely because of the grisly nature of the subject matter, but you’ll definitely remember it anyway.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

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SEE NO EVIL: THE MOORS MURDERS. (2006) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

myra maureen

SEE NO EVIL: THE MOORS MURDERS. (2006) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS.

DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER MENAUL. WRITTEN BY NEIL MCKAY.

STARRING SEAN HARRIS, MAXINE PEAKE, JOANNE FROGGATT, MATTHEW MCNULTY, GEORGE COSTIGAN , SUSAN TWIST AND JOHN HENSHAW.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Does a dog have a soul…?’

This one originally aired on ITV over the course of two nights in 2006, and I’d say there was hardly a family in the whole of England and Ireland that wasn’t glued to it. I was watching it myself and I thought it was phenomenally well done, despite the horrific subject matter. Having re-visited it recently as a two-hour-and-seventeen-minute film, the impact was no less powerful.

It’s the story of the infamous Moors Murders as seen through the eyes of Myra Hindley’s younger sister Maureen, whom Myra called Mo or Moby and genuinely seemed to love, if such a cold-hearted woman could be deemed capable of love.

It’s 1963 and the death of her baby Angela Dawn with David Smith, her young husband, sees a distraught Maureen turning to her older sister Myra for comfort. A side-effect of Myra and Maureen’s spending more time together is that David Smith and Ian Brady are thrown together a lot too.

At first, David isn’t terribly keen on Ian, an egotistical show-off proud of his high intellect and the fact that he’s well-read. Ian loves an audience. He spouts a lot of nonsense about philosophy, relativism (whatever that is) and existentialism that goes right over Dave’s head at first. As it did mine, I must say.

Gradually Ian, with his narrow, pinched-looking nose and cruelly thin lips, gets inside Dave’s head. He gives Dave books to read by the Marquis de Sade, books that Ian has studied carefully himself along with books on Nazi ideology and Nazi atrocities.

Dave finds himself reading about the rape and physical abuse and torture of young women, but his wife Maureen tells him that she can’t understand how either he, Dave, or Ian for that matter, can get their kicks out of reading about men beating and/or raping women. We don’t know what Dave makes of all this but it’s pretty obvious how Ian feels on the subject.

Ian and David plan a bank robbery together, unknown to Maureen but not to Myra, who will drive their getaway car. (Ian doesn’t drive, you see.) They take guns out onto the nearby Saddleworth Moor for shooting practice.

The four young people, Ian, Myra, Maureen and Dave, spend a lot of time out on the beautiful wild Moors because it’s Ian’s and Myra’s favourite place. Maureen is heard to remark that she doesn’t know what they see in the cold, windy expanse of grass and muck.

I can certainly see the attraction of moors, they’re wild and windy and gloriously sort of primeval as in Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, but these moors in particular are hiding Ian and Myra’s grim secrets.

During a drunken conversation between Ian and David, Ian reveals that he has killed people in the past and, what’s more, that David has unwittingly stood on their graves out on the Moors. Dave doesn’t know what to believe at first. Then he decides that it’s all just big talk on Ian’s part as usual. He’s a boaster and a show-off, after all.

Dave changes his mind when Ian entices a young man called Edward Evans back to his and Myra’s council house which they share with Myra’s old grandmother. In front of Dave’s eyes, Ian murders Edward Evans with an axe. Afterwards, he coldly orders Myra and Dave to clean up the blood.

Dave, feeling like he’s in a nightmare, does what Ian orders him to do before stumbling home in the early hours of the morning, sick and frightened, to a sleeping Maureen.

In the morning, the terrified pair go to the police, which was a pretty brave thing to do on their part. Maureen was reluctantly ‘shopping’ her beloved sister, and Dave was risking the wrath of a man he was obviously very afraid of, that is, Ian. Their action was the catalyst that broke the horrible state of affairs that became known as the ‘Moors Murders’ case wide open…

Maureen and Dave can’t believe it when Ian and Myra are arrested for the murders of missing local young people Lesley Ann Downey, John Kilbride and now Edward Evans, whose body was recovered by the police in Ian and Myra’s council house the day after his brutal murder.

The bodies of Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride were discovered buried out on Saddleworth Moors. George Costigan (Bob in RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO) is brilliant here as DCI Joe Mounsey, the careworn detective who never gave up hope of finding little John Kilbride and who, in fact, was the one to first uncover the little boy’s lonely resting place.

Ian and Myra were each sentenced to life in prison for these three murders. It wasn’t until much later that they confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and little Keith Bennett.

The latter had broken his glasses the day before he was murdered and so he went to his death not being able to see properly, a fact which haunted his poor mother and which makes his fate all the more devastatingly poignant.

The evil couple, who nicknamed each other Neddie and Hessie (Neddie after a character in THE GOON SHOW and Hessie after British pianist Myra Hess) were reviled for all time after the details of their heinous actions became known to the public.

The tape made by the couple of Lesley Ann Downey begging and pleading for her life and the pornographic photos they took of her did nothing to endear them to the courts. Their addiction to documenting their gruesome activities was at least part of their undoing.

It was even Ian and Myra’s habit to get all incriminating materials out of the house before they committed another murder, so if the police came round they’d find nothing out of the ordinary. The level of premeditation here is quite extraordinary.

They packed everything up into two suitcases which they placed in the left-luggage section of Manchester Central Railway Station. When the police found a couple of these ‘treasure-troves’ after Ian and Myra were arrrested, let’s just say that they now had a lot more evidence to go on…

Maureen and Dave, with another baby on the way, attempted to rebuild their own lives but the public wouldn’t let them forget who they were and the couple had a long way to go to find peace, if they ever did. They were hugely affected by the fallout from the Moors Murders.

Maureen did in 1980 of a brain haemorrhage, twenty-two years before her born-again Catholic sister Myra passed away in custody, the short peroxide blonde hairstyle, no longer her trademark, replaced by her own longish, natural brown hair.

Ian Brady lingered on till 2017, somewhat bearing out the old Irish saying that ‘you can’t kill a bad thing.’ The absolute secrecy surrounding his cremation and the scattering of his ashes in the sea will tell you just how reviled a person he remained even until after his death.

Maxine Peake does an excellent job here of portraying Myra, one of the most hated women in Britain ever. Not only does she look like her but she plays her as she apparently really was, surly, secretive, unco-operative and stand-offish.

The real Myra didn’t do herself any favours with her unhelpful, abrasive attitude towards the police, and certainly there was at least one set of parents of the Moors Murders victims who died without knowing where their child- Keith Bennett, the smiley-faced boy who broke his glasses- was buried. To this day I believe his remains are still somewhere out on the Moor.

This drama serial handles the explosive material with sensitivity and compassion. The film-makers are careful not to distress the parents and families of the victims any more than they already have been. Some of the relatives helped Neil McKay, the writer, with his research. It’s a grim subject, maybe one of the grimmest, but it needed to finally be told.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor