Guest Richard Edwards

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

649 posts in this topic

I came away with a sense of foreboding doom, with Peter Lorre asking Elsie her name. It seems like I have seen similar styles like that in other films, with a man trying to win over a child's confidence before striking. I also noticed the other children playing a game were together indoors, while Elsie was by herself and outdoors.

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Guest Patty

I tried to count the church bell gongs just to tell what time it was. With that lighting, it could have been midnight. Peter Lorre's shadow reminded me of later Hitchcock films where his shadow would appear. My imagination usually frightens me more playing with shadows than when I view a 'monster.' The children's song was also tinged with the black humor we generate when events are so disturbing, we try to find ways to diffuse them--like children.

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The silence is hypnotic. While the sparse, rhythmic sounds represent everyday life (the children singing, the washboard, clock and church bells, the car horns and the bouncing ball), it's the silence that represents the unknown terror surrounding everything.

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Guest Patricia

The director is creating a menacing mood at the outset with the employment of innocent children at play chanting about a violent incident. The menace is reinforced by low light and a black shadow of a threatening man approaching a child on the street. Sounds also contribute to the atmosphere of menace, including the tenor of the male voice behind the shadow.

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Guest Laura P

The slow and seemingly relaxed pacing of the scene works effectively in creating a looming sense of tension and suspense, heightened by elements such as the extended moments of silence and the complete lack of soundtrack. This ominous mood is established early on and then persists for the remainder of the clip; we remain alert and continuously expect something dreadful to happen. As soon as we are introduced to the shadowy figure, we already know the fate that will befall the little girl. Certain aspects that bring noir films to mind include the eerie use of shadows and the theme that evil lurks beneath the surface.

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Guest Jane

The opening scene, for me, inspires dread. I'm immediately disturbed by the topic of the little girl's song, and it strikes me that the neighborhood must be consumed with fear if even the children are now re-enacting the crimes. This is heightened with the near-miss of Elsa being struck by the car, and continues through the steady bouncing of her ball and heightens as we see Lorre's shadowy profile. It's chilling and stark.

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Guest Sonali Dalal

I am new to the world of film Noir and would like to get introduced to that genre first. If you can share a link which can explain basics of it, I would be greatful.

 

Such a small clip but was gripping to say the least. Feeling of dread, fear was very well created. acceptance of the circumstances by lady followed by a sound of cuckoo clock ,as if it is giving a warning to her. Children all wore very serious expression and gaiety was missing. Sound of ball hitting pillar with a poster was ominous. Many small points like girl stopped by a car while crossing, man leaning on a lamp post reading a newspaper etc created feeling of fear, expectaion of an event which will happen soon.

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Guest Richard

Enclosure: children in courtyard, woman on stairwell, woman in kitchen. No grass, trees, plants. No sky. 

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Guest Mel

The stark mise en scene of the lower classes and the tired women set the scene visually. The children, centered and shown from a high angle, are presented as the target of something not good. The children coupled with the women and then Elsie's mother setting a table for lunch tell us that something bad is about to happen. That Lang chooses to focus on Elsie's mother for so long setting the table tells us it will be Elsie who will be next. When we see the shadow of the man come up behind the little girl, we can surmise that the girl is Elsie and that the man is going to take her.

 

Lang's use of sound is brilliant in M. Throughout the entire film he uses silence as well as voiceovers to build suspense. There is no non-diegetic sound--everything (including "music") comes from the world of the film. Lang's film is so visual that the lack of sound does not matter to his presentation of the narrative. 

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Guest Louis B, Caruana
Brilliant opening scenes crafted by the directing of by the German expressionist Frits Lang. The cinematic style of Lange, the use of props such as the child bouncing her ball off the wanted poster of a murder, her stepping out in from of a car on her way home from school, the officer there to guide her, but then disappears, the cuckoo clock ringing the hours as the church bell chimes, all building tensions, anticipate of danger ahead. 

"M" (1931), his first movie with sound, Fritz Lang crafted a dark and disturbing tale that introduced the wider world to actor Peter Lorre and embodied several of Lang’s themes: the duality between justice and revenge, mob hysteria, the menacing hysteria of watching a helpless trapped person trying fruitlessly to escape deaths trap. A precursor for his later film directing, the noirs. Lang is one of the best known film makers from Germany's school of Expressionism, which led to the classic style of the noirs. His style of use of light, shadows, creating the mood unique to noirs is displayed in this opening scene of "M".  His influence on the distinctive style of the classic black & white film noirs is evident in this movie, in this opening scene of “M”. 

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Guest Rachel D.

The silence is hypnotic. While the sparse, rhythmic sounds represent everyday life (the children singing, the washboard, clock and church bells, the car horns and the bouncing ball), it's the silence that represents the unknown terror surrounding everything.

 

I agree completely. I think in modern cinema, filmmakers rely too heavily on a constant soundtrack of music to set the mood. This is a text book example of how the silence does more to invoke the looming feeling of dread than music could do. Simplicity at it's finest.   

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Guest karen

Morning. the best comment I have seen is that everything looks ordinary, perhaps in a depressing way, but still the only inkling I have is that one woman talks about the crimes, and that is even more depressing. I feel that in other comments there is an expectation of something bad because it is expected.  if you had read nothing about the movie i think you might feel a bit bored by the opening and it would make you feel how awful that these women are working so hard everyday and the one woman acting as if "This is my lot in life". i would want to know her story.  The other woman is an optimist and my immediate feeling with her is that "she is doing what she expects of herself - making a home for someone and perhaps it is one of the children coming home for lunch (the cuckoo clock)". she is taking so much pride and her take on life is "we should be glad we can hear them". Then there is the little girl who is too well dressed for this neigborhood and going to a nice school as well and that is jarring and truly unexpected as it is out of sync with the women. then we see the poster and that's when we 'know' something horrible is going to happen.  Is her mother the happy woman or the depressing woman, or is there another parent.  is that even important to the film, and suddenly i think none of them has a hold on what will happen when the shadowed man appears. They are all linked together in a daily routine of life. the children ignore the warnings and the women just carry on. It makes the horror of the inevitable even more so.

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Guest Guest

Quietly violent. Even though the scene opens with a song sung by children, it is not a raucous song--it's very measured and fairly quiet. Most of the scene is silent, but we know Lang is building suspense and will present us with a murderer very soon.

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Guest Eva

The scene with the child playing singing an eerie song foreshadows the terror that the characters feel. Furthermore, the clock signifying the time and the anticipation of the waiting mother for her child to come home from school is a example of suspense. Also, the police officer helping the little girl cross the street and reading the poster warning of missing children.The viewer is given a chilling scene when the little girl is approached by a man in the shadows.

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Guest Benpeterson

Just in the first minute this films contributes to film noir aesthetics by stating that characters in noir films, even children, are not sheltered from the world around them. In a German world in the early 1930s, these children can't afford to be sheltered or innocent. Tracking shots, when done correctly, have always felt very ominous and eerie to me. The shot doesn't have to be a long one, but how Lang fades his camera up from the children to the balcony, as they sing this tune, leaves one to be believe the children are doomed.

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Guest Svein

He held the camera on the empty balcony for an unusually long time. Did anyone else think the clothesline and pegs resembled razor wire?

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Guest wiliam Dunstan

The scene is built up to the point where the viewer knows what will happen and is waiting for it to happen, that is, the abduction of a child. Lang seems to be staging his characters like they are helpless.  The lighting is dark and foreboding. The place seems unprotected, open to evil. Warning signs are the song the children are signing, the conversation of the adults followed by the silhouette over the reward poster and the girl bouncing the ball. Playing is made to appear ominous

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I feel a sense of dread when I watch the opening sequence of M. Part of this has to do with the fact that I already know what the film is about but mostly my feeling of dread comes from the fact that the opening sequence is incredibly creepy. The high-angle shot of the children singing the song,  the lack of non-diegetic sound (which only enhances the presence of ominous diegetic sounds, like the cuckoo clock and the blaring car horns), and the fact that the adults seem to be disconnected from the world the children inhabit. All of these things add up to create the sense that something bad will almost certainly happen. So when we see Peter Lorre's shadow on the poster at the end of the clip we aren't terribly surprised but it's nonetheless horrifying. 


 


As far as the film's contribution to noir, I don't have much to add beyond the obvious: the use of odd camera angles, shadows and low-key lighting to elicit suspense and dread in the viewer. Also, the fact that the subject matter (and ending) is, well, not exactly uplifting surely opened the door for other films to explore similar themes and the idea that not everything ends well.  


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Guest ThatIzzy

I found that the macabre, almost casual mentions of the laundry ladies about how beneficial it is that the children still sing the nursery rhyme so that they know those still alive, was quite important. Especially with the connections of background sounds, since by that time you weren't able to hear the nursery rhyme - it almost seemed like a predicament of future ongoings and dangers.

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Guest ThatIzzy

I found that the macabre, almost casual mentions of the laundry ladies about how beneficial it is that the children still sing the nursery rhyme so that they know those still alive, was quite important. Especially with the connections of background sounds, since by that time you weren't able to hear the nursery rhyme - it almost seemed like a predicament of future ongoings and dangers.

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Guest ThatIzzy

I found that the macabre, almost casual mentions of the laundry ladies about how beneficial it is that the children still sing the nursery rhyme so that they know those still alive, was quite important. Especially with the connections of background sounds, since by that time you weren't able to hear the nursery rhyme - it almost seemed like a predicament of future ongoings and dangers.

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What struck me most was the way that Peter Lorre's shadow perfectly frames the German word for 'murder' on the poster. Then when he bends down the shadow falls across the rest of the text but leaves the word 'murder' sunlit. It's clear we're supposed to assume that he is the murderer, but the change from shadow to light on that key word also suggests that the criminal will be exposed in the end.

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Guest mijblaser

the song was scary in that the kids were just mindlessly singing about a killer. the clock broke a silence but said time is up, the shadow and the monotone of Lorre over the murder poster talking to the next victim is haunting

 

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Guest Zane Gray

One of the ways that Fritz builds tension is by only showing us very little.  Most of the angles are harsh.  We never see much more than a corner of a room or a small part of a street.  This makes the scene where we see an entire building so shocking.  This exclusion of information accomplishes two things.  First, it establishes that we should fear the unknown.  We never know what kind of thing is hiding right out of the range of our view.  Second, this shows how small the individual really is.  They have no power in this society, and can do nothing to stop a murderer.  It takes an organization such as the police or even a group of criminals to take on such a task.

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Guest Anthony

The whole set seems depressing for the very first second. Even the kids' song is macabre and not at all pleasant. The women discussing it and the child murders seem to be depressed, and the house they live in surely not charming. At the school, in the streets, there seems to be no signs of happiness, only shadows, quick and disturbing sounds, and danger, because the murderer is at large. There is no music, nothing to give you a pleasant thought, only low-key lighting, alarming sounds like the cuckoo or the car passing, and a feeling that no one is safe.

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