Dir: Fritz Lang (Metropolis; The Big Heat)
Landmark German film with Peter Lorre as a child murder whom society has no idea how to deal with. The film is sparse, contemplative, suspenseful and brilliant. While early parts of the movie have dated themselves, the last half hour will stand against any crime movie ever made.
When a serial killer is on the loose, an entire city is gripped with fear. The police blanket the city, townsfolk accuse each other on the slightest suspicion, mothers blame themselves for the deaths. Mass hysteria has been let loose by one psychopath. The underworld, who are unable to carry out their normal nefarious duties with the increased police activity, vow to catch the killer themselves.
After early scenes that explore the impact on society of the hightened tension a bit too in depth, the chase is on for Lorre. From here on in the film crackles. It becomes clear that the murder is insane and not responsible for his actions, no matter how heinous they might be. The mob, however, demand vengance even if their own hands are stained with the same blood. It is the brilliance of this movie that we are actually made to sympathize with the monster, a move no doubt incendiary at the time for a film maker to attempt. This tension between morality and vigilantism is forced on the audience even after we have come to vilify the antagonist and root for his demise.
The story, as one would expect for Lang, is told indirectly, in the shadows. Lorre looks at himself in the mirror and we know he is the killer. The absence of children stands in place of footage of their actual abductions. As with all great thrillers of this time, our imagination supplies the horror.
The film could have done with a score, I think, to help support the first half of the film. Hubristic of me to suggest, perhaps, but some of the lenghty discussions about how "something must be done!" wore thin for me. Criterion has done their best with the print, but some flaws are still evident, especially an annoying line across the top of the frame for nearly the entire film.
Great cinema. Still powerfully relevant.