Guest Richard Edwards

Daily Dose #1: The Nasty Man in Black (The Opening Scene of Fritz Lang's M)

649 posts in this topic

Guest Richard Edwards

Welcome to TCM's Summer of Darkness message board and the discussion space that students of Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir will use to discuss the great movies of film noir. Today you will have received your first Daily Dose of Darkness: the opening film clip from Fritz Lang's M. Please reply to any of the questions posed in the Daily Dose post, or bring up new topics or observations about that film's opening as we explore M as a precursor to the first films noir in Hollywood. Remember, M (1931) predates by a decade The Maltese Falcon (1941). So while it is not considered film noir per se, M is an important cinematic precursor that contributed to the development of the noir style. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest D

Lang's opening scene is a great example of a foreshadowing in his film, M. For only a few seconds we hear a child singing "Just you wait a little while. The nasty man in black will come." The film then opens revealing to whom the singing voice belongs, a young girl standing in the center of numerous young children. She circles around pointing her finger as she sings the song. Whichever kid she lands on after her completion of said song is out of their game. Just under a minute in duration, this opening is very intriguing. Lang wastes no time in using every second here directly stating some children's fate through what seems to be a harmless game the children enjoy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest AllisonRC

Seeing the beginning of the movie as a child accidentally, the opening gave me nightmares.

the children song is one similar to any other folk song children sing in groups playing games. it isn't until the mothers are talking the one realized the children made a game out of a current event so the first sense of urgency is instill into the viewer. so when the viewer sees the poster they know right away what will happen to the girl even before the man is shown.

I am interesting to see when opening voiceover is noir movie start since while predating noir films doesnt have one but reminds me more of recent movies. it also reminded me of silent movies with the music. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Mike Hale

The comment from the woman in the kitchen to the laundry woman "Well at least if there singing we know they're alive" certainly set the mood for me, what an eerie unsettling statement.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Mike Hale

The comment from the woman in the kitchen to the laundry woman "Well at least if they're singing we know they're alive" certainly set the mood for me, what an eerie unsettling statement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Doc Lynch

Masterful opening using remarkable visual imagery with minimal dialogue. Ominous. Fearful. Disturbing. A film ahead of its time using a theme that remains somewhat forbidden even in today's no holds barred productions. This is as dark as it gets.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Walshie

I always remember a movie from my childhood having a creepy folk song--Freddie Kreuger from Nightmare on Elm Street (One, Two, Freddie's coming for you...) and I always thought this added an extra creepy vibe to the film since children as victims always adds a somewhat more heinous dimension to a crime...with the whole "innocence lost" aspect.

One thing I notice is that, as someone else has mentioned, there is much foreshadowing--but I note that the opening does not contain a flashback of any crime. Once, while attending a showing and talk of the film Double Indemnity, I remember the film historian telling us that true film noir always began with a flashback...but I note here that there is none.

In any case, I have never seen this film, but am very much looking forward to it now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Scott F. Hartshorn

Lang paints his masterpiece with dread, inevitability and hopelessness ...the staples of all film noir to come...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Sherry

The most innocent line is also the most terrifying. The little girl says: "Elsie Beckman."

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest carlie_wright_3

The opening scene certainly sets a dismal and ominous atmosphere, with the addition of the cheery children singing a very dark song. It all adds up to quite an unsettling beginning. The conversation between the two ladies definitely gives you a taste of what's to come. And just at the end, where the shadow of the man asks the little girl her name, and which she does in fact reply; puts a thick layer of mystery and suspense to the opening. This is a very intriguing and captivating start to a film, and of course very well done. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Linda

I like subtitled films because they tend to demand more complete attention. Hollywood sets and soundstages from the same time though have me spoiled, and I found myself being critical, especially of the outdoor scene until… The innocence of the child speaking to a shadow is wonderfully harrowing. It had a child-like nightmare quality in being scary without revealing the details of the murderer’s face. I'm looking forward to watching the film Friday morning!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Goldberg

Shots of the children are done from a high angle that lends a felling of vulnerablity. The song gives the scene a dreamlike quality that also suggests the children are unprepared for the danger that awaits. Lang creates an environment of simple domestic banality that belies the lurking menence. The shots of the mothers doing laundry, preparing meals, setting the table gives a feeling of uncertain ease while the children's song and the mother's apprehensions create tension. The flowing camera also gives the sequence a comfortable flow. All is not what it seems (a very noir motif). The sounds of the clock, school bells and auto horns are clarion calls of approaching danger. The poster that the little girl bounces her ball on is a sign post that the danger is upon us (interesting use of graphics in noir like newspaper headlines). The murderer is a shadow without identity and whispers softly like the serpent in Eden.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Carlosr12

One scene that caught my attention is the one where the shadow of the killer comes before the real person, as a symbol of evil arriving. You can see things like this in movies before M, like Nosferatu by Murnau and after it, like The Searchers, by John Ford. Probably there are similar scenes in noir movies, but I can't remember any at the moment. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Somebody else mentioend it in here but I can see where Nightmare on Elm street got inspiraton from. The opening sequence initally you think it's just children playing a kids game, like Duck, Duck, Goose. Then you hear the song that they're saying while they play their game. That song sets the tone for what you know will be an ominous movie. I think beyond the children play I actually think one of the big things is the shadow of the man leaning down over the little girl with the rubber ball. That tells you she is the next one to go and all that just from  a shadow looming over her.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Cyril McDonald

Minimalism is Fritz Lang's forte. He uses the stark shadows and loneliness felt by both the children  and the housewives and juxtaposes the evil lurking shadow of the stranger approaching the child . The infrequent use of sound is balanced with the sharp sounds which do occur. Contrast is evident in every aspect of the opening.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Vibagon

It's been a few years since I watched this movie, and while I didn't really loved it, the images were so powerful that were impossible to forget. And in the begining you already have a good insight of the whole movie: the strong shadows, the high angles on the children, the off-camera action... all this sets the mood perfectly: you can tell there's a tragedy about to happen by the premonitory rhyme, the anxious mother, the traffic (one of many menaces towards children)... You can't be sure why, but feel something is not right at all. Sincerely, now I am really looking forward to giving this film a second chance, this appetizer is really attractive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Kasey

Such a beautiful and creepy opening! I agree with the above posters about the dread captured in lines such as "If they're singing, at least we know they're alive" and the girl's chipper response to the shadowy man. I also found the part where the children stop singing, but then disobediently start up again eerie. It gave me a little chill, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps, as others noted, it took me back to other films I've seen in which the children are the violent ones, but it definitely captured the mood, contrasting children's innocence with the ongoing murders, while also showing that children are not always so innocent. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Guest

 The Mothers face when the cukoo clock chimes, her tasting the soup, and taking her time to set her daughters place also shows this is a very loved child. I cannot wait to see this film on Friday.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Diane

The opening scene -- its pacing, its lack of music -- fills the viewer with a sense of dread. We know that evil is present.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Rowan Holmes

Panic within a confined space.  There are few if any expansive areas; even the exterior of the school (with the anxiously waiting parents) expands outside the camera.  Imagining M as if one was seeing it for the first time: a children's 'game' is exposed as being less than innocent, and yet one remembers as a child that such games were played based on such horrors.  Was it how we coped with the unthinkable?  And yet the flatly-lit, exhausted mothers are more panicked by the 'innocent' game than the children are.  In their cramped quarters, crushed by unending work, they realise that there is still more to be feared than mere drudgery.

A child is menaced by a passing car.  Saved by this, she sets off home and bounces her ball against a reward poster for the child-murdered which, if she can read it, she obviously does not understand.  The most famous sillhouette in noir leans towards her across the text which is seeking that very person...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've seen this one before but it's been awhile so I've forgotten a lot about it. I loved the singing children (interesting how so many horror films have that same type of scene).

 

But I especially loved the ending scene with the little girl playing ball on the sign and suddenly we just see Peter Lorre's shadow and hear his voice asking her name. Completely sinister and fits the mood perfectly. I also like that we can see the little girl is in danger without the need of violence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Kyle W. Porter

If there was one word I had to use to describe this opening it would have to be "ignorance". Everyone in this world is ignorant of the horrors that are about to come. The few seconds the children sing a song about the arrival of a murderous "man in black", not knowing what it is they sing about. It's like when we sang "Ring Around the Rosie", not knowing that it was really a song about the horrors of the Black Death. Then there are the women. The washing woman complains about the children singing, but the baker tells the other to let it go. She has the line (and I paraphrase) about it's ok if the children are singing that way we still know they're there. She is completely ignorant to the reality that very soon her own child will disappear. Next, we see the little girl, Elise Beckman, try to cross the street, ignorant of the traffic. She almost gets hit by a passing car. The policeman comes over to help her cross. The traffic blindsides him to the fact that he should be protecting the child from another danger. And then finally, little Elise makes conversation with the child murderer, totally ignorant of the fact that she is talking to the man that will kill her in a very short time. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Rowan Holmes

"A child is menaced by a passing car.  Saved by this" should read "Saved from this".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Dean Smith

Portentious. No music is almost always scarier than music, especially manipulative music (I'm looking at you, almost every modern movie). The children are filmed from above which makes them vulnerable. The washer woman is literally burdened with the clothes basket and with her pregnancy, and mentally burdened with the murders, as all the adults are. Danger lurks everywhere--traffiic, dark, open doors, then the shadow of the murderer. Adults come to the rescue, the woman yells at the kids, the cop helps the girl cross the street, but when the murderer shows up, the girl is alone--even on the busy sidewalk.

 

Aside from the shadow, though, and deep darkness off the sidewalk in the building, I think the lighting is flat in this opening. Not "flat" uninteresting, just not very contrasty. I seem to remember that changes later during the chase, but I might be remembering wrong. I've only seen the film once before quite awhile ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Roman

It's the little things in this opening that set up the entire mood. From the little ring around the rosie-esque game about a real life murderer to the little girl almost being hit by a car. It all adds to the subtle idea that the children are not safe before we even see the wanted poster which is what many films would have started with in those days.

 

Also, the shadow of the killer on the wanted poster, classic suspense. Spoilers to anyone who hasn't seen the film yet, it's him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoticons maximum are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us