Friday, April 18, 2014

Tonight's Movie: M (1951) at the Noir City Film Festival

The TCM Classic Film Festival didn't officially open until Thursday, April 10th, yet in some ways I felt that the festival started the preceding Sunday, April 6th.

My friend Aurora arrived in town early for the TCM Festival, and along with my husband we spent an interesting and educational afternoon exploring two of the cemeteries where many classic era filmmakers are buried.

That was followed by a wonderful dinner at the Pig 'n Whistle with Robby and his lovely wife. Having enjoyed and admired Robby's Dear Old Hollywood blog for so many years, it was wonderful to have the chance to meet in person at last!

We then went to the Egyptian Theatre where we were joined by my friend Lindsay for the closing night of the Noir City Film Festival, a double bill of M (1951), directed by Joseph Losey, and THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), directed by Ida Lupino.

There was another TCM tie-in with one of the films, as a significant percentage of M was filmed in the historic Bradbury Building, which was one of the stops on the TCM Los Angeles Movie Locations Bus Tour.

M is a remake of Fritz Lang's 1931 film of the same name. Despite the 1931 version's status as a revered classic, I've always been leery of watching it because of the subject matter; the villain of the piece is a serial killer whose victims are children. Having braved the remake and found it to be an interesting story, I'm now more open to checking out the original, which stars Peter Lorre.

It may have helped in that I didn't have the original film to compare it to, but I thought the 1951 version was terrific. David Wayne is out-and-out creepy as a mentally disturbed man who compulsively kills little girls. This aspect of the film was handled as tastefully as possible or the film would not have been watchable for me.

The police, headed by Inspector Carney (Howard Da Silva) and Lt. Becker (Steve Brodie), make very slow headway in catching the killer. Crime boss Charlie Marshall (Martin Gabel) decides for various reasons that having a serial killer on the loose is bad for business and marshals his own forces to track the murderer down.

I thought the concept made for a terrific story, with a bunch of bad guys temporarily becoming antiheroes as they go after an even worse bad guy. With great actors like Raymond Burr and Norman Lloyd as the criminals on the case, it makes for an extremely compelling film.

My only quibble with this 93-minute movie was its overly drawn-out, talky ending, which was anticlimactic. Other than that, it's a movie very much worth seeing.

In the film's most exciting sequence, the bad guys corner the killer in the Bradbury Building. Previously I think the most interesting use of the building I'd seen was in the Mickey Spillane film I, THE JURY (1953), but M showed it even more extensively. Simply spending so much time in that historic building made the movie worthwhile.

The movie is a must for anyone interested in the old Downtown Los Angeles, as it also features Bunker Hill, the Angels' Flight Railway, and the 2nd Street Tunnel. I especially enjoyed seeing locations I'd recently seen on the TCM tour in the movie.

A fun anecdote: The Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode mentioned that he had once asked Norman Lloyd about his scene stealing in the movie, with bits of business such as getting on a scale and weighing himself while other actors are talking. He said Lloyd responded "A good actor must do what a good actor must do!"

The girls in the film are played by Janine Perreau (sister of Gigi), Frances Karath (sister of Kym), Sherry Jackson, and Robin Fletcher. Karen Morley has a small role as the mother of one of the victims. The cast also includes Luther Adler, Glenn Anders, Walter Burke, Roy Engel, Jim Backus, Virginia Farmer, Madge Blake, and William Schallert.

I'm starting to think this is the "year of Steve Brodie," as he is turning up in my viewing with such regularity!

This film does not appear to have been released on VHS or DVD. With its fine performances and fascinating visual record of mid-century Los Angeles, it deserves to be more widely seen.

Coming soon: A review of the last of the 13 films I saw at the Noir City Film Festival, THE HITCH-HIKER (1953).

May 2015 Update: I had a wonderful experience seeing this film again on a big screen at the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.


Blogger Robby Cress said...

This movie was so fantastic to see on the big screen and from a restored print. I'm really glad I got that opportunity and also for the opportunity to finally meet you after all these years online! I hope this restoration by the Noir Foundation will finally lead to a proper DVD/Blu-Ray release.

7:44 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, I've never seen this film (but I've owned several versions of the Peter Lorre picture and know it fairly well....). It's never been commercially available on VHS, Laser-Disc, DVD or fact, to my knowledge, it's never had any kind of home-video release at all! And it's never shown on TCM or any other station that I'm aware of. It's (along with the Alan Ladd version of "The Great Gatsby")as if it had vanished off the face of the earth. You're lucky to have seen it Laura!

5:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Robby, it was so great to finally meet! I agree, this movie needs to come out on DVD.

Brad, thanks for confirming this film's lack of a release -- I do feel very fortunate to have seen it (and for that matter, the Ladd GREAT GATSBY, an excellent film).

Let's hope that films such as M and GATSBY make it to DVD before too much longer. They are both significant films which very much deserve to be more widely available.

Best wishes,

10:17 AM  

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