M premiered in Germany two years ago--and ripples have spread from it, smooth as oil, troubling the surface. It is a bustling picture, crowded with police-work--and that of their criminal counterparts—with a panicked citizenry milling at the fringe.
--And ready or not, now and again, and finally at the center of the wave, is Peter Lorre, the child-murderer, helpfully whistling Grieg to let us know he’s coming--but that does no good: his “blood-dimm’d tide” flows down every sunlit avenue and neglected side street.
--Until the end, when he is flung down the stairs to meet underworld justice--and instead we beg them to relent, Fritz Lang making us see the criminals’ faces pause in appalled recognition of themselves--of ourselves, in some Dostoyevskian admission of universal guilt, Lorre’s sobs frightening--in part because a fiend makes those sounds, in part because I can no longer hate him. I am almost reminded of Boris Karloff’s Monster, the sensitive planes of his living-corpse face breaking soft hearts.
In giving us such a creature, Lang denies us satisfaction; and the moral uncertainty he leaves almost becomes a relief--after I’ve left the movie behind in the dark, and sit and read the newspaper filled with a thick darkness lifted only by--if not my ability to hope or forgive, at the least the compulsion toward mercy.