Fritz Lang's first sound movie, the serial-killer film "M", has often been voted the best German film of all time, but, until now, most of us have never seen it properly. What we have seen is a heavily cut 1950s re-edit with extra sound and music patched in, where Lang was deliberately economical with the new technology. This new "Ultimate Edition" is dominated by a marvellous restoration which is true to his intentions and oft-voiced complaints about what had been done to his best film.
The young Peter Lorre is terrifyingly ordinary as the child-murderer whom police and criminals hunt down in what is still one of the best forensic police procedurals ever made, while Gustaf Grundgens has effortless charisma as the chief gangster. Lorre's Hollywood exile and decay, and Grundgens' betrayal of old friends and principles under the Nazis, merely add a layer of irony to all this. Lang's ironic cuts--a gangster's gesture is completed by his police equivalent--and dark, studio-bound cinematography make this one of the great precursors of American "film noir". Simply, seen without cracks and pops and lines running down the screen, "M" is revealed as a true classic--a film that shames everything made in its genre since.
On the DVD: "M" on disc has a great deal of documentary material featuring scholars and technicians telling us just how clever they have been in preparing this splendid restoration. The film also comes with a detailed commentary into which has been spliced interview material with Lang talking in English about specific sequences. There is a German-language film interview with Lang in which he talks through his career and re-enacts the interview with Goebbels that led to his exile; an audio interview with Peter Bogdanovich; and an intelligent video critical essay by film historian R Dixon Smith. The restored film is shown in its correct, unusual visual aspect ratio of 1.90:1 and has vivid cleaned-up digital mono sound: the murderer's whistling of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" has never sounded so chilling. --"Roz Kaveney"