Before Jaws announced himself with a Great White "nuh-nuh," before Norman Bates signaled danger with his shrieking-strings knife slash, there was Peter Lorre whistling Grieg's Peer Gynt as prelude to a murder. In Fritz Lang's first sound film, the masterful M, we hear the whistle before we see the man, see his shadow before we see his face, and when we finally see that face (all bug-eyed and doughy), we think: This guy? For real? And therein lies the genius of Lang's inspired-by-true-events thriller about a child murderer in Weimar-era Berlin: The killer's just a sad sack, a "prisoner of his own pathology," and Lang's film dares to go beyond bald condemnation and to explore the psychology of the man. Included in Criterion's typically top-shelf release are an interview by American director Billy Friedkin with an ornery Lang just a month shy of his death, a raft of production stills and storyboards, and loads of trivia-junkie finds. (Lang used real-life criminals as extras in his underworld scenes; the French release included a reshot final monologue with Lorre chewing scenery in vigorous French, as well as a tacked-on happy ending of children at play a far cry from the original's stern admonishment that "we have to watch our children better.") The only dud in the bunch is Claude Chabrol's "M le Maudit," a 13-minute-long homage to M, recast with French actors, which plays embarrassingly like some film-school snob's thesis project.
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