Film vs. Film: M(1931) vs. M(1951)

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Here we look at the German Expressionist all time classic M and the 1951 Hollywood film noir remake M. A story about a serial killer of children and vigilante justice. Can a re-make hold a candle to one of the all-time greatest films ever? Well let’s step into the cage for an all out noir brawl.

Round 1: Direction and Cinematography

M from 1931 is directed by one of the all time greats, Fritz Lang. Even Lang has said this is his favorite film of his career. Released in 1931, this film broke new ground in so many ways. This movie also used filming techniques that all film noir would crib from over 9 years later.

M from 1951 is directed by one of film noir’s favorites as well, Joseph Losey. This was Losey’s third film and one he didn’t want to do. He didn’t figure he could re-make a work by Lang, but was broke and took the job. He would go on to make many more classics after this film. The cinematography of this film is very good looking. The street scenes of Los Angeles are a great time capsule to see. Some of the scenes might even be more creepy then the original, like the mannequins scene. Though there is nothing wrong with Losey’s direction, we are talking about Lang and one of the most influential films ever, so we need to give this round to the original. M(1931) 1-M(1951) 0

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Round 2: Screenplay 

M(1931) is written by Fritz Lang and his then wife Thea von Harbou. They really wanted to make a film about the most horrifying criminal they could imagine. Loosely based on a real case of a serial killer targeting children, Lang and Harbou could not think of anything more scary to make a film about. Still to this day, this subject mater is fairly taboo in film and television. Can you imagine how shocking this story would have been in 1931?

M(1951) Leo Katcher, Norman Reilly Raine and Waldo Salt took the original script and revised it for an American setting and audience. They added another dimension to the script with the drunk lawyer character played by Luther Adler. They did take away the element of the beggars union hunting to find the killer, which did take a bit away from the story.

I have to go with the original again in this round. Though the remake made some interesting changes, those changes are not enough or good enough to sway the judges. M(1931)2-M(1951)0

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Round 3: Male Lead

Peter Lorre became a household name around the world from this film. He is so scary, yet you feel sorry for him at the same time, it is a brilliant performance from one of the all time greats.

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David Wayne steps into some big shoes and bravely does the character totally different then Lorre. It is a great performance where he actually seems a bit scarier then Lorre in a few scenes. Maybe the scariest part of Wayne’s performance is that he looks a lot more normal then Lorre when he is hunting for his next victim.

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This round has to go to Lorre, though I liked Wayne’s performance. Lorre just has that it factor that makes him so watchable in almost anything. M(1931)3-M(1951)0

Round 4: Supporting Cast

The original film used real life criminals and the beggars had some amazingly interesting looks. Small people, men with wooden peg legs, and the blind are very interesting to watch.

The 1951 version has Raymond Burr, Howard Da Silva, Jim Backus and Norman Lloyd just to name a few of the cops and gangsters that appear in this film. Though this is a close one, but I have to give the round to the remake. M(1931)3-M(1951)1

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Though the remake showed a bit of brilliance in the last round, the fight goes to the original by a landslide. Though both films are good in their own right and the remake is a very good film noir the original is a masterpiece. Both are worth your time to seek out and watch. Now that a remastered version of the 1951 film is available, look for a copy.

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Favorite Tidbit: Both of these films where banned at one time or another. The original was banned a few years after its release in Germany by the Nazi party. Both Lang and Lorre fled Germany because of their Jewish heritage. The remake was basically shelved after some of the crew was put on the Communist Blacklist. Losey would soon flee to Europe after this film.

 

 

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Review: They Live by Night

They Live by Night is a classic film noir based on Edward Anderson book Thieves Like Us.

This is also director Nicholas Ray’s first film, a pretty good start to an amazing career. This film stars Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger as a young couple in love. They would go on to team up again in Anthony Mann’s Side Street a few years later. I reviewed that film here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/06/10/review-side-street/

This film starts out with a quick scene before the credits role of our happy couple. We than flashback to three men in the process of a prison escape. We see Granger and his two cohorts played by Howard Da Silva and Jay C. Flippen. There is an interesting scene here, where Ray shot from a helicopter for a bird’s eye view of our trio fleeing. This is one of the first action scenes ever shot from a helicopter(pretty amazing idea for a first time director). As our hero has a bum foot or ankle, he hangs by a billboard as his fellow escapees move on to their destination and will send help back for him. When a truck pulls up we meet Cathy O’Donnell as the farmer’s daughter there to take him to meet his friends. We can see the attraction right away between our two leads as she drives him to her father’s farm. As the trio regroup they decide the best move is to rob a bank to raise some money to make their getaway. Will they succeeded? Will our happy couple live happily ever after?

I’m not sure if Edward Anderson wrote this story as a fictional tale of Bonnie and Clyde or not, but it at least had to be a huge influence. This is a twisted love story in more than a few ways. This film is a must see for film noir fans, though I would not rank it among my favorites and maybe my expectations were to high going in. This is a good film and when you know it is Ray’s first film, I do appreciate it. I hope to read the book on which this film is based someday and revisit this film again.

Favorite Tidbit: Another film was made in 1974 based on this novel as well. It goes by the novel’s title Thieves Like Us and stars Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. I have not seen this film but may have to watch both of these films back to back for an interesting double feature.

Review: The Blue Dahlia

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So did anybody write better classic noir dialog than Raymond Chandler?  I don’t think so, his wise cracking P.I. Phillip Marlowe will always be one of the greatest fictional character of not only noir, but all of fiction.  Though we don’t have Marlowe in The Blue Dahlia, we are not missing on the crackling dialog.

Clean sheets every day they tell me.  How often do they change the fleas?

Seems I’ve lost my manners or would anyone here know the difference?

Joyce Harwood: Well, don’t you even say ‘Good night’?
Johnny Morrison: It’s good-bye, and it’s tough to say good-bye.
Joyce Harwood: Why is it? You’ve never seen me before tonight.
Johnny Morrison: Every guy’s seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you.

You’ve got the wrong lipstick on, Mister.

‘Dad’ Newell: [examining Helen’s body] Been dead for hours.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Suicide?
‘Dad’ Newell: Could be.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Better be!
‘Dad’ Newell: Unh-unh! Too much gun!

I know I’ve got lots of faults, but being in love with you isn’t one of them, is it?

These are some of my favorite quotes from this film, and if it was just the dialog this would be a 4 out of 5 star film.  But Raymond Chandler doesn’t just write great dialog, he can put together a pretty good plot too.  This has three friends coming back from the war. Our hero is played by Alan Ladd, who goes to see his wife.  She is having a party and he soon finds out that she has a new beau.  The new boyfriend played by Howard Da Silva, owns the night club “The Blue Dahlia” for which the movie is named.  Soon our hero’s wife played wonderfully by Doris Dowling, she is just the right amount of evil that we can see why our hero wants free of her, but also the right amount of sadness that we feel sorry for her having to be by herself while her husband was at war.  She’s mad, but we understand why.  She is found dead and we don’t know if it’s suicide or murder.  The police start with the most likely suspects, which includes our hero.  Now he has to find the killer before he takes the fall for murder.  Along the way we have William Bendix playing Buzz.  Buzz is a great character who has some brain damage from the war, does he also have post-traumatic stress syndrome before we really knew what it was?    Then of course we have Veronica Lake who plays the night club owners wife.  I would call her the femme fatale of this film, but she doesn’t try to decisive anybody, or use anybody, or try to get away with anything, she’s actually a truly good person.

Raymond Chandler had to change his original ending and was not happy about this.  I will not tell you why or how it is changed here, because it is a spoiler and we don’t believe in that here, but after you watch it you can probably see what is changed and maybe even why given the time frame of when the film was made.

A couple of historic trivia bits for you.

1.  Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake appeared in a number of movies together and rumors started that they where having an affair.  Both always denied this, and it is not known if the rumors where true or not.

2. Elizabeth Short got her nickname The Black Dahlia from this film.  She embraced her new nickname and took to wearing a black dahlia flower in her hair.  She died less than a year after this.  She became the subject of the classic James Ellroy book and not-so classic film, “The Black Dahlia” and part of Los Angeles lore forever.

I really liked this film for its sharp dialog and surprising twists and turns.  A classic noir that all fans should see.

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