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Details At A Glance

Category Thriller Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1931 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 110:05 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Crew
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Fritz Lang

Force Video
Starring Peter Lorre
Otto Wernicke
Gustaf Grundgrens
Theodore Loos
Ellen Widman
Georg John
RRP $29.95 Music  

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages German (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes, plenty
Subtitles English Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Well, this is definitely one out of the annals of cinema history - and German cinema at that. Indeed, this is of such a vintage that it has more in common with the silent era than the era of "talkies", yet has achieved something of a classic status in the history of motion pictures.

    Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is a psychopathic child molester and murderer who has Berlin in the grip of his reign of terror. The police investigation, led by Kommisar Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), is basically baffled with no clues, no leads and even less suspects. As the city plunges into the grip of paranoia, the mob led by Schranker (Gustaf Grundgrens), in the face of loss of income owing to police activities relating to the murder investigations, decide to track down and eliminate the murderer - using of all things the beggars union, since the beggars can go anywhere without raising suspicion. Through the efforts of the beggars, especially a blind street vendor who remembers Beckert's whistling, Beckert is located and taken into custody for trial by the mob - where he is actually rescued by the police.

    Whilst the story line is quite simple, the vision with which Fritz Lang brought this film to the screen is quite amazing for its time. Some wonderful techniques were used to parallel the investigations of the police and the mob for instance, right down to the alternating between two simultaneous meetings being held by each. This is one of the most convincing uses I have seen of this technique, and provides not just wonderful exposition of the story, but also a quite saddening indictment of the ineptitude of the authorities at times. Peter Lorre is most convincing as the psychopath, especially remembering that the standard of film acting in those days was, in theory, nowhere near the standard of today (unless your name initials are JC, KR or J-CVD).

    Considering the quite rudimentary technical side of cinematography in the early 1930's, this must have been quite groundbreaking in its day, although by todays standards a little dated. Nonetheless, despite never seeing anyone actually killed or being hurt in the film, the whole story comes across in a most convincing and gripping manner. Apparently Fritz Lang went to some lengths to obtain authenticity, including hiring real life criminals for the film. A classic of cinema? Having now seen it, I do not doubt the claim at all.

Transfer Quality


    You simply have to remember that this is 68 years old, and no matter what miracles are performed, the likelihood of a flawless transfer is very low indeed. This is a film not too far into the "talkie" era in Germany and the quality of the film stock used in those days is simply not comparable to the film stocks of even ten years later. Which is a long winded way of saying that there are problems with the film, but these are film problems and not transfer problems.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    Overall, the general transfer is a little dull, although definition was somewhat better than I expected. Clarity is very variable indeed and ranges from almost atrocious to better than acceptable. Shadow detail is, as to be expected, quite poor, but again better in general than we have any right to expect. There is significant variability in the transfer, from what was presumably reel to reel, with some sections being significantly better than others. A comparatively new opening credits section has been tacked onto the beginning of the film, judging by the vividness of the black and white. There was also a distinct lack of vertical stability in the film at times, especially earlier on in the film (which is the politically correct way of saying that it jumps around a bit).

    This is a very dull black and white transfer and there is a significant lack of depth to the black and white tones, which border on being variables of gray rather than black or white. However, this simply has to be expected in a film of this vintage as it is doubtful that anything close to a pristine print would be available as a master.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts. Video artefacts were not a problem either. However, this is a veritable encyclopaedia of film artefacts: scratches, dirt, breaks, you name it and it will be here. Obviously these a quite distracting at times, but it is fair to say that in a film of this vintage it is no worse than I would have expected.


    Well, if you want audio demonstration you will not be looking here anyway, and if you accept the inherent limitations of the time, this is not that bad. This was Fritz Lang's first effort with sound, and some interesting techniques were employed in its use.

    There is only one soundtrack on the DVD, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, which is very much mono (I do not think stereo was even an engineer's dream at that time, but I may be wrong). The soundtrack is accompanied with English subtitles (which are permanently on). It is pleasing that we have the original soundtrack and not some dubbed English soundtrack. Like any soundtrack of the era, there was some distortion, some audio drop out and some background noise, but overall not that bad. There are some quite lengthy periods of silence in the film, almost as if the audio was turned off so as not to include background hiss.

    The dialogue was reasonably clear and easy to understand throughout.

    Audio sync was something of a problem with the transfer, but again to be expected in a film of this vintage. It was not extreme and indeed most of the film seemed to be pretty well in sync (given that my German is fairly poor).

    There is absolutely no musical contribution to the film at all, hence the reference to this being closer to the silent era than the "talkie" era.

    This is quite a raw mono soundtrack straight out of the centre speaker and definitely nothing too much in the way of speakers are required here. At least this makes an interesting comparison in how cinema sound progressed from the silent era of the twenties, through the first "talkies" to the classic films of the late thirties and early forties.


    Buena Vista take note - even this poor collection of extras is better than 95% of your releases.


    Very plain indeed, but then again it does not have much to do. It would seem that a standard menu design is being adopted for these releases by Eureka Video (through Force Video).

Biographies - Crew

    Actually only a biography for Fritz Lang, and a very short one at that.

R4 vs R1

   Available in Region 1 in the Criterion Collection, it seems that there are no extras on that release either. However, the available reviews from the USA seem to suggest that the quality of the transfer is somewhat better than this one. I have not seen it to confirm it, but assuming a slightly better quality of transfer, that would seem to be a somewhat compelling reason to prefer the Region 1 version.


    M is definitely not a DVD to demonstrate the capabilities of your system. However, it is important that films of this ilk are committed to DVD for posterity sake and I for one welcome it, even though the quality is not the best. Whether it is worth the asking price or not is open to debate, but I would suggest that students of the art of cinema need to add this to their collections. Unfortunately, my ratings reflect the fact that I am not that much of a student of the art of cinema.

    The overall video quality is passable for a film of this vintage.

    The overall audio quality is barely passable for a film of this vintage.

    I would really like to see more effort on the extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
2nd October 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL