Release Date: May 11, 1931
Director: Fritz Lang
Production Company: Nero-Film A.G.
Continuing with German cinema, this film by Fritz Lang (who also directed Metropolis) is a thriller/procedural drama that basically invented the noir genre. Peter Lorre, an actor I’ve always liked in his Hollywood films, had is first major role as the serial killer of children, Hans Beckert. Depicting a serial killer on the silver screen and the way the story unravels is strikingly modern, and is about 30 years of Hollywood doing something similar.
The film begins with chilling sequences of children chanting about murder and then Beckert luring away a girl while whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” In the panic that follows, people turn on one another with suspicion, and the police crack down on the criminal underworld. The city’s mob bosses decide that they also need to track down the murderer, and the scenes of cops and criminals preparing for a manhunt are intercut, with it being deliberately hard to tell which group is which.
Beggars are able to track down Beckert who then hides in the office building. The criminals seek him out using all the means at their disposal, including rather comically drilling a hole through the floor to access a locked office on a lower level. Once they’ve captured Beckert, the criminals put him on a mock trial. These scenes feel didactic as Lang’s characters overtly explain the moral message to a sick society, which is a weak way to conclude the film. The command at the close of the film to watch our children seems torn out of the present day manual of helicopter parenting. Nevertheless, the film on the whole is a compelling drama.