"M" 1931. Peter Lorre. D: Fritz Lang

The classic movie about a child murderer.

Having seen it, I was left with the impression that the murderer was not just a murderer, but a pedophile, too. There’s nothing obvious in the movie to indicate this, but such things were probably too sensitive for 1931.

If anyone has seen this, do you think that 1931 audiences might have thought the same thing, or were there subtle indications of this that I might have missed?

The 1931 audience probably never considered the pedophile angle. No one really thought about such matters. It’s not that the subject was too sensitive; it’s that it was too alien.

It’s likely Lang wasn’t thinking about it, either. At the very least, the ending indicates that the murderer is a person to be pitied; that alone would be almost impossible to do nowadays, where the pedophile is the blackest of all villains.

I have to disagree with RC here. 1920s Germany suffered through a few well-publicized serial killing sprees, and the one carried out by Fritz Haarman included same-sex pedophilia plus cannibalism. The good Bavarian burghers weren’t as innocent as you think, Mister Jaded Fin-de-Siecle Guy.

For the record, Peter Lorre’s character in M was based on the exploits of Peter Kurten, the “Vampire of Dusseldorf.”

For an absolutely riveting account of sex-murder and child-murder in the 1920’s, including incisive commentary of its influence on the artwork of Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz, read Maria Tatar’s LUSTMORD: SEXUAL MURDER IN WEIMAR GERMANY.


Uke

So, Ike, was Kürten a pedophile?

I was going to just say how much I enjoyed the movie–but now, Ike, you really have piqued my interest! There’s nothin’ like a guy who’s up on his German pedophile vampires . . .

Yes, he was. Among other things: sadist, rapist (of adult women), arsonist, blood-drinker, animal-fucker, and deriver of sexual satisfaction from witnessing street accidents.

Kurten’s first victim was an 8-year-old girl, whose throat he cut (after rape) in 1913. Most of his later killings were of adult women, whom he stabbed, strangled, and hammered. He would later visit their graves and masturbate over them.

Kurten was guillotined at Klingelputz Prison in Cologne in 1932. His last meal was Wienerschnitzel, with fried potatoes and a bottle of white wine, which he enjoyed so much he asked for and ate all over again.
His final words were "“After my head has been cut off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sould of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck?..That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”


Uke

(Sorry to go into so much grisly detail, everyone. Just trying to impress Ms. McFlimsey.)

– Uke, looking for a skinny little guy into whose face to kick sand.

Gee, I WAS gonna ask if you wanted to get together for drinks at the Algonquin after work so I could loan you a Milt Gross book . . . Now, maybe, I should ask if you wanna meet behind the 10th Avenue Piers at 1:00 a.m.?

Kin I bring the hammer?


Uke

(Batting eyes into left field) “You sure do know how to sweet-talk a girl!”

How about 7 PM this Thursday at the Algonquin? I’ll leave the hammer at home.

(Apologies to Cecil and all our Teeming Millions friends and associates…Flora and I are only doing this in public because neither of us has an email address listed)


Uke

Thursday at 7:00? You’re on, toots, I’ll be the long-legged gal at the Blue Bar, the one who looks like Cher and Frank Zappa had a baby.

And I get the feeling all the Straight Dope voyeurs are lovin’ this . . . We’ll have to get together on a story to tell 'em Friday morning!

Oh, you don’t have to remind me. Frank and Cher have been doing the mambo in my dreams ever since I read the “Who’d play you in the movie?” thread.

Is that Ed Zotti hiding behind the potted palm?

Ed is actually out of the country this week.

I think it is clear that Fritz Lang wanted the deeds of the murderer in “M” to be left to the viewer’s imagination. There is certainly no direct reference to rape, mutilation, cannibalism, or … well, whatever other horrors you fancy. That stuff all happens off-screen, in your own imagination… except that whatever it was, it was terrible enough to mobilize the police, the criminal gangs, and everyone else to capture the “monster” who perpetrated.

Um, thanks for the details, Ike. A simple ‘yes’ would have done.

Getting back to the OP: If the film really refers to Kürten (I’ll take your word on that), I suppose that would have been advertised at the time the film came out. Logically, people would have understood the connotations.

Disagreeing somewhat,Holg… PSYCHO was partly based on Ed Gein, but that wasn’t advertised as part of the original publicity with the film.

I think the use of symbols like knives and balloons lets the reader imagine what he will… German directors of the 20s and 30s loved symbolism, and used it often very heavily. Lang is, of course, top line, and the symbolism is (generally) reasonably subtle.

EMERGENCY MESSAGE FOR FLORA McFLIMSEY:

Just found out that Thursday is Parents’ Night at my daughter’s school. Can you do Wednesday (tomorrow) at six, same place?

My apologies.


Uke

Yeah, OK. Six is better for me, anyway.

Ummm . . . You have a daughter? Somehow I didn’t expect that. Interesting.

Uh, yeah. Figured I should subtly allude to that fact…I realized yesterday that I’d never posted to the “How long have you been married” threads or the “How often do you beat your children” threads.


Uke