Film vs. Film: M(1931) vs. M(1951)

mv5bmty3nte1mjgxml5bml5banbnxkftztywotewotm5-_v1_ 220px-m_1951poster

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

peter-lorre-m-1931

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

m

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.

m_review

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.

69436295

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

losey_m_1951_2

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.

maxresdefault1

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.

 

 

Advertisements

Review: The Mask of Dimitrios

The Mask of Dimitrios is a film noir from 1944 with the dynamic noir duo of  Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. This is the first feature film of director Jean Negulesco. Negulesco was slated to direct the Maltese Falcon in 1941, but was soon replaced by John Huston. He finally got his big break with this film and went on to a great career as a director in Hollywood. He also teamed up with Lorre and Greenstreet for a few more films. This is also the first film of Zachary Scott. This movie is based on the book A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.

Our story starts with a dead body washing up on shore in Turkey. This body is identified to be Dimitrios Makropoulos,a slick criminal that Colonel Haki has taken special interest in. Haki is played by Kurt Katch in this film. Colonel Haki in this film is the same character played by Orson Welles in Journey Into Fear a year earlier. I reviewed Journey Into Fear here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/06/26/review-journey-into-fear/

Haki tells Cornelius Leyden, played by Lorre, a time line of Dimitrios’ crimes and past locations. Leyden is an author of detective stories and is intrigued by Dimitrios’ story and decides to further investigate him for a future book. As Leyden starts his investigation at the records office in Greece we soon see Mr. Peters…or is it Mr. Peterson? played by Greenstreet following Leyden. They soon meet on a train as Mr. Peters tells Leyden where to stay at his next stop. This film also uses flashback scenes to tell Dimitrios’ story as Leyden learns more and more about him. The mystery grows as we learn more about Dimitrios’ past. Will we find the connection between Mr. Peters and Dimitrios? Will we find out how Dimitrios died and why? Will Leyden get the story he wants for his next book?

This film has a pretty interesting story and hooks you as you want to learn more. I have to say though, my favorite parts of this film are the scenes of simple conversation between the two leads. Greenstreet and Lorre are two great actors and how they deliver their lines and interact with each other are some of the best I have ever seen. I can see why they where teamed up for 9 films together.

Zachary Scott is also very good as the title character, playing a smart charming criminal and spy.

The Mask of Dinitrios is a film noir I never really heard about until TCM’s Summer of Darkness. I liked the two leads in the Maltese Falcon and other films and was intrigued. This was a big hit when it was released in 1944 and not sure why it is not talked about more these days. This film is amazing and worth seeing for any classic film lover. If you are a fan of any of the three leads, and who isn’t?, you will love this film.

Favorite Tidbit: The character Dimitrios Makropoulos is inspired by Basil Zaharoff, a Greek-born arms dealer who became one of the richest man in the world and was known as “merchant of death” and “mystery man of Europe.”

Review: Stranger on the Third Floor

Stranger on the Third Floor is a film Boris Ingster who sadly only directed three films. After seeing this film I would like to see more from him. This film is written by Frank Partos who has written many classics for the silver screen. This film’s biggest star is Peter Lorre, who made this film with only a few days left on his RKO contract. His role and presence doesn’t have much screen time, but he still got top billing for his appearance in this film.

So for many classic film noir historians, The Maltese Falcon is the first true film noir. This film actually came out the year before Falcon and as some have said, this is actually the first true film noir. As everything with noir, people have varying opinions. This film checks almost every box a film noir should as far as style and story. We have amazing cinematography with lots of shadows and low angles. We have a characters wrongly accused of crimes they did not commit and seemingly no way out. The story is intense with some of our characters having few allies to turn to. The ending isn’t exactly happy, well if it would have ended about 5 minutes earlier anyway. The story is told with flashbacks and has a crazy dream scene which uses a lot of noir techniques. You will get Claustrophobia feelings as our protagonist’s world comes down around him. The only fault I can see for this not being the first true film noir is we do not have a femme fatale of any sort. Personally I would say this is a film noir, so let the arguments for and against this begin.

If this film still doesn’t say classic film noir, I don’t know what does.

John McGuire plays a journalist who just got a raise and wants to marry his girlfriend played by Margaret Tallichet. Everything is going great for our couple. The reason he is getting his raise is he has written an article about a murder, which he happens to be the only witness to. The story goes into the court room where Elisha Cook Jr. is the accused murderer and everybody from the lawyers and judges, even the jury is phoning this one in. They find him guilty of the murder of the coffee shop owner and he goes to death row. Tallichet goes to court to watch her boyfriend in action. She feels that Cook Jr. could be innocent and McGuire’s testimony put him in prison. This gets McGuire thinking she maybe right. He goes home where he sees the stranger on the third floor played by Lorre. He chases Lorre out of the building, but feels there is something wrong in the apartment next door. The neighbor and McGuire have butted heads before and he realizes how easy it would be, to be framed for his murder. As our story continues we ask questions like, Could the neighbor really be murdered? Will he be framed for it? Is Cook Jr. innocent after all?

This film is very good and worth watching whether you think it is a film noir or not. That just makes the conversations about this film more interesting. Our four big stars are all great in this, with Lorre and Cook Jr. at their creepiest best. I also found Tallichet a very gifted actress, it is a shame she retired from the business so early in her career. If you love classic film, noir or not, you will like this film.

Re-watching the Classics: The Maltese Falcon

el_halcon_maltes_1941_3

The Maltese Falcon has a lot of firsts, firsts that would change film, film-noir, fiction and popular culture forever.  The Maltese Falcon is considered by some as the first true film-noir movie.  It is the first movie John Huston ever directed who went on to direct 46 more movies, many of them considered classics and he is considered one of the best directors in history.  This is Sydney Greenstreet’s first film, at 62 years old, he was a stage actor for 40 years before this film.  Greenstreet went on to make 24 more movies in his career, 9 more with co-star Peter Lorre.  This book on which it is based is written by Dashiell Hammett, who some consider the first writer of noir fiction, if he isn’t he certainly is one of the earliest influential writers and a master of the genre.  His work has not only influenced the noir genre greatly, but has popped up in western and samurai movies and films from all over the globe.  I read the book many years ago, and may re-read it and give it, its own review later.  I can tell you that the book is amazing as well.

The Maltese Falcon (1)

This movie has one glaring non-first, this is the third time this book has been adapted to the screen, the other two where rather lack luster attempts(I have not seen either of them).  The reason this one worked so well is John Huston wrote the script just as the book was written.  The previous attempts all had a happy ending, Huston left the original book ending in his version.

The Falcon itself may be the most famous MacGuffin in film history, it is definitely the most valuable.  There are 4 know Falcons and 2 are made of lead.  These lead versions have gone to auction and sold for well over a million dollars.  That is 3x what the original film cost to make.

We have a bunch of the common themes we will find in noir movies for the next 20 years to even today’s neo noir films.  We have the hardboiled private detective with the overcoat and fedora hat, has anybody done this better than Humphrey Bogart?  We have the femme fatale in Mary Astor.  We have an unhappy ending that maybe not what the audience wanted. We have twists and turns, sometimes us as a viewer are not sure what is going on, does our hero know what is going on?  Most of the film is from our hero’s prospective, we are learning as our hero learns. We also have some underling moral issues that are there but not spoken, do to the movie code of the time.  Is our hero having an affair with his partners wife?  Is one of our thugs actually a gay man?  Is our femme fatale using sex and lies to get what she wants?

Our story starts at Spade and Archer’s office.  Spade and Archer are partners and private detectives.  They take on a case where a man needs to be followed because he has taken our clients younger sister and will not let them see her.  When Archer is on the job, he is shot and killed.  This is where are hero Sam Spade takes over trying to find out who killed his partner and why.  Our adventure is with Spade, he is in every scene of this film, except the scene where his partner is murdered.  We don’t know who to believe and who to trust, just like Sam Spade.  If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon yet, do it right now!

maltesefalcon3

In film noir and noir fiction for that matter we have two writers, that are considered the best of the era.  Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  The debt about who is best will live forever.  I’ve read both of them and can’t pick a winner myself.  I think the winner is us, as readers of this classic fiction.  One thing they have in common is Humphrey Bogart, the iconic star that played both Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Marlowe.  Who is your favorite Bogie detective, Spade or Marlowe?