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: The Prowler

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The Prowler from 1951 is a classic film noir from director Joseph Losey. This was one of Losey’s last Hollywood productions before fleeing to Britain due to being accused of Communist activity. I touched on this a bit more in my review of Time Without Pity here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/11/28/review-time-without-pity/

Dalton Trumbo was one of the writers on this film as well. Trumbo had his own problems with The Special Committee on Un-American Activities. This is the subject of a new film starring Bryan Cranston, a film I look forward to seeing as soon as I can.

The Prowler stars Van Heflin as a beat cop and Evelyn Keyes as a bored housewife. The movie starts with a prowler spooking Keyes’ Susan. Heflin’s Webb and his partner answer the call to investigate. Both Susan and Webb are from Indiana and have a common history, but neither seems to know the other. This is the start of, us as the audience, not trusting one or both of our characters. I have to say both actors play their roles well, we cannot get a read on either of these characters at first. Is Susan using Webb to get away from her husband? Does she know who Webb is and has always been in love with him, going all the way back to growing up in Indiana? Is she a calculating femme fatale? Webb is a cop that wishes he had Susan and her husband’s money and lifestyle. He hates being a cop and wants to get out of the job to make his mark somehow. Is he using Susan for her money? How far will he go to get it?

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This film will take you on a roller coaster ride of good luck to bad timing to our character’s just digging a deeper hole all the way to the end.

James Ellroy loves this film and introduced it at screening like this”In 1951, Joseph Losey and Dalton Trumbo struck a masterpiece of sexual creepiness, institutional corruption and suffocating, ugly passion. You will need antidepressants, booze, drugs and bleak anonymous sex after you see this movie and—believe me—you are in the perfect city to find that! The great Dalton Trumbo wrote it, the great Joseph Losey directed it, Evelyn Keyes and Van Heflin in The Prowler.” I seen this on TCM and in the opening credits Ellroy was thanked for his help in getting this film restored.

This is a very good noir that every film noir fan should see. Enjoy the ride all the way to the bitter end.

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Favorite Tidbit: Even though Dalton Trumbo was already on the Blacklist at this point, he wrote the story under the pseudonym, Hugo Butler. He is also the voice on the radio (Susan’s Husband) through out the film.

Review: Time Without Pity

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Time Without Pity is a British noir from 1957. This film is directed by Joseph Losey. Losey has an interesting story himself. He was directing films for RKO and was in Italy filming The Stranger on the Prowl when he was summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Instead of going back to the United States to testify, he stayed in Europe and eventually found steady work in Britain. His trouble with the Un-American Activities Committee may have started when he directed the re-make of M in 1951. This film was singled out by the Committee, here is a look at some of the history of that film here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/11/06/news-a-long-lost-film-noir-gets-a-second-look/

This film has an interesting plot with an amazing twist at the end. The story revolves around David Graham played by Michael Redgrave. David has been in an institution for his alcoholism, with no contact with the outside world. When he is released he finds out his son is in prison and scheduled to be hung the next day. He goes to visit him and is determined to find the truth and save his son.

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Through out the film David fights his alcoholism, which is hard with the added stress he is under. David meets some interesting characters along the way and does whatever he needs to do to help his son.

This is a good film with some outstanding scenes. The opening scene of the murder of a young women is very well done.

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I also loved the scene at the racetrack with one of the characters driving his Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing, getting it prepared for a race. Even though the scene really doesn’t make much sense, it is visually stunning and entertaining. I also truly loved the final scene, I will not talk much about this so I don’t ruin the film for those who have not seen it.

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Favorite Tidbit: Peter Cushing plays a small role as the lawyer for David’s son. He would make The Curse of Frankenstein next, which would launch Cushing’s career as a Horror Icon.

Edit: A few clarifications should be noted: (1) THE PROWLER and THE BIG NIGHT were both filmed in the US and released after M in 1951. Losey was in Italy filming STRANGER ON THE PROWL when it was announced by HUAC that Losey was one of the witnesses it wanted to testify on September 17, 1951, and who had not yet been served a subpoena. He returned to the US in October, could find no work, and left about a month later to live permanently in England. (2) M is more akin to the culmination of Losey’s issues with the US government than the start. The FBI file on him began in late-1943, and he was under surveillance due to his beliefs, actions and associations. His two pre-’51 feature film releases, THE BOY WITH THE GREEN HAIR(1948) and THE LAWLESS (1950), demonstrate that his 1951 features were not a newly found consciousness. See “Joseph Losey: A Revenge On Life” (David Caute 1994), pp. 86-109.

Thanks for the clarification on Losey, Mr. Field.