Hi all. I apologize if I'm going to repeat anything that anyone Elsie said already, but I thought it would be a good idea to get my feelings down about the scene before reading, and being influenced by, the rest of the posts that have already been made. I know I'm a little late to the party in this instance, but my schedule and late sign up didn't allow me to even start with this course until yesterday, which was mostly spent filling out profiles and getting comfortable with what was ahead of me. But once I get caught up to the curriculum (i.e., watched and commented on all the scenes from last week and get through the new stuff from this week), I’ll be much more prompt with my responses.
And I should also apologize up front for my writing style. I tend to write a number of opinions that are off topic, which I always enclose in parenthesis at the point in my writing when I think of them, and then will continue on with the sentence the way I would have wrote it without the side comment. Many people have found it easier to follow my writing if they skip the comments (i.e. don’t read the stuff in the parenthesis) until they finish reading the complete sentence. But, being a multitasker, I’ve always been able to throw in the comments when they fit, even if it causes me to take a brief siesta from my original thought.
Also, when I include a word in all capital letters in a sentence, it’s my way of adding emphasis to the word/words. When an entire sentence should be emphasized, I use an exclamation point at the end of the sentence like everybody Elsie. However, when I include a word or words in in all caps, it’s my way of adding addition emphasis to just those words. This is most likely a result of years of communicating via social media, where using capital letters when writing gets you accused of yelling! And, while I’m not screaming at anyone, I have found it an easy way to add emphasis to certain phrases in my writing. However, I will occasionally include an entire sentence in all caps, and top it off with an exclamation point. When I DO use this technique, I basically AM yelling, or at very least, saying that sentence louder than any of the rest. I developed this way of writing long before I started using a word processor and used to write with a pen and paper to communicate (yes kids, that’s really what we used to do!). I also found it a helpful technique when writing out my lines in a play or a presentation so I’d know where I wanted to add extra emphasis when speaking, and the technique stuck with me. I know that, now that I do use a word processor, I should be using italics or underlining for this purpose, but old habits are hard to break, and I find that pressing the uppercase key to be easier than switching those items on and off, especially in cases where I’m using a text generator that doesn’t even include those options! And if we all wrote in the same way, Shakespeare might have been just been another bit part actor! Not that I’m comparing myself to him mind you, but anyway.
And I’m sure you’ll be able to remember these little writing quirks, Professor, even if I AM only one of 14,000 students, because I’m not going to spend this entire course repeating myself before everything I write, which I think you’ll be happy about at the very least!
Now, on to the clip from “M”:
First, the mother and her friend/client in the clip. You could tell how hard a life they were living, struggling to get the laundry up the stairs and to the woman who was going to do the washing, and the effort it took for the woman doing the wash, having to scrape each piece of laundry against the “bumpy board” (being a product of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, I’m afraid I don’t have a clue what that thing she was using was called, even though I’ve seen them before, being a fan of older movies and all!) the way she had to. You could sense her concern about the danger out in the world by the way she objected so strongly to the song the young girl was singing during the game the kids were playing (although that impression was most likely a product of having seen the movie a number of times before since you weren’t supposed to KNOW that early in the film what the real danger was that the kids were facing). The thing I really loved about the scene where the mother came out on the porch to tell the girl to stop singing that terrible song was the way she was photographed through the barred railing when she first walked out, making me think that her life was like a prison to her. Her friend’s response to the wash woman’s objections about the song was telling too, I thought. I mean, telling her friend, basically, “Who CARES what they’re singing about! As long as they ARE singing, we know they haven’t been taken yet by the monster who’s around!” was fairly sound advice, but also spoke to the fear that BOTH woman were dealing with about the situation.
Next about Elsie, the little girl in the scene. I thought the fact that she was singing a song that was so dark and scary was a great way to let the audience in on what the community was facing from the child molester/murderer in their midst! But the fact that she was doing it while playing a game with her friends, showed how unaware SHE was to the danger that was present!
Later in the clip, we see Elsie leaving school with all of her fellow classmates, and my first thoughts here didn’t have anything to do with the movie itself, but made me think of how much society has changed since the movie was made, but even more so, how it’s changed since I was a kid, which was 30 years AFTER this movie was made, but, as of today, is closer to 40 years ago now (yes, that’s how old I really am!). The fact that all of these very young kids were being let out of school in a very big city (I don’t know Germany that well, and don’t remember if the city was ever identified, but it certainly could be compared to New York or Chicago if the film had been domestic) and they weren’t being met and walked home by their parents, as seems to be the norm today, shouldn’t make anyone think that these kids aren’t loved or well cared for! Being a student of history, or more accurately, simply remembering how things were when I was her age and attended school, I know that’s just what happened! Even though there was a homicidal maniac loose in the city who preyed on young children, kids used to get out of school and walk home by themselves, or at least, accompanied by a friend or friends who happened to be going in the same direction. I know I would only be met by my mother when I got out of school on those occasions (I’d say rare, but in my case, they were a lot more frequent than I would have preferred) when there was a doctor or dentist’s appointment to go to! The fact that these kids were NOT being picked up and walked home doesn’t have anything to do with neglect, or a parent’s attempt at “free-range” child rearing! Again, it was the norm in those days, so nothing should be read into that, at least in my opinion, even though the mother was being shown as being overly concerned (or maybe NOT!) that it was taking Elsie so long to actually make it home from school. I think the only thing that SHOULD be read into that fact was how it emphasized how busy Elsie’s mother was, despite the fact that she was “only a housewife” (the quotes being added so nobody will think that I assume that this is an easy role, because I don’t feel that way!), and didn’t have time in her day to walk her child to or home from school. My mother would never do that with me (other than the exception already noted) even though she simply had to throw dirty clothes into a washing machine to get them clean! I’d also like to make the point that that nothing should be read into the fact that the victims in these crimes were all “pretty little white girls”. Back in the 30’s, all movies that were made for the general viewing public were only about “pretty little while girls” and their families. I don’t think Fritz Lang had a single thought about the different ways the crime would have been treated had the child been a person of color. He was simply making a Thriller (as it would be called today at least) and not a social documentary. And the fact that ALL of the kids leaving school that day were “pretty little white kids”, again, was normal for those days, at least in this country, although I can’t speak for Germany, but knowing how Hitler at least thought about anyone who wasn’t from Arian stock, I don’t THINK things were much different over there! The people of other ethnicities would be attending a “separate but equal” school (in this case, the quote are being used because I really DON’T believe this was ever really true!) in a different part of the city. But enough about what SHOULDN’T be read into the film we’re being asked to comment on here!
When Elsie leaves her school, and is walking and playing with her ball, she is shown to almost step out into a busy street while a car is about to hit her. I viewed this as a means to show how innocent Elsie was, and how unconcerned kids of her age tended to be about the dangers that they face on a day to day basis, without yet bringing into it the danger she faced from Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre)!
The clip that is being used in this instance happens to include one of my favorite scenes from the entire movie! It’s the scene that comes next, which is the scene that ends the clip, but also the scene that kicks the movie into high gear! And while the scene could well have been the invention of the writer of the film, I tend to give credit for scenes like this to the film’s director, in this case, the great Fritz Lang! In just a very few seconds of film, he accomplished an awful lot.
The scene opens with a poster that tells the audience exactly what Elsie’s mother had been concerned about, although you already had a pretty big clue from the song Elsie was singing at the beginning of the film! While the song talked about a monster who was out there preying on young children, or more specifically, young girls (although I can’t name any films being made in 1931 that EVER included a same sex molester of children, but I haven’t seen them all quite yet!), the song was from the point of view of a child, at least I assume it was, because I can’t imagine a song like that being written by an adult, at least not in those days! The poster brought the film’s “danger” into perfect focus pretty succinctly! It told about children who had been abducted and killed in another city, and the fact that the perpetrator was now operating in the city where Elsie was living, and that there was a major man hunt for the man by the police in the city. But during the time that the audience was reading the poster, (or in our case, since we are American’s after all, and therefore can generally only speak the one language, we were reading the subtitles that told what the poster said), a ball was being bounced off of the poster. Because of the scene just prior, at least for those who didn’t recognize the ball itself, you knew that the person bouncing the ball off the poster was our friend (and our surrogate child in many cases) Elsie. She was bouncing the ball off the poster most likely because she was too young to be able to actually read the poster. And while this may be true, it had the effect of showing that Elsie didn’t think any more about the monster she had been singing about during the opening scene in the film than she thought about the sidewalk that she had just been bouncing the ball off of, which showed how innocent she really was, but also how unaware she was of the danger that she faced!
The fact that a shadow of a man is shown on the wanted poster was a great visual to get the point across to the audience that this shadow belonged to the person whom the poster was about! And when he mentions how pretty the ball is, and Elsie replies to him as she would to her mother or to a friend, you know in just two lines of dialogue what the outcome of the encounter is going to be without having to show an attack or the result of the attack on poor innocent little Elsie!
When I think of Film Noir, I not only think of darkness, as the name of TCM’s festival implies, although darkness DOES have a major connection to most movies in this category. Because my first, and still my favorite, example of Film Noir is “The Maltese Falcon”, when I think about the genre, the thing I think about even before darkness, is shadows because of how effectively that film used them. And because the film’s villain is introduced with just a shadow not only made me put this film into the same category, but was also an effective tool to help hide the villain’s identity for a little while longer.
I AM sorry about the fact that it took me more words to discuss a four minute scene than were probably used in the entire movie, but I DID get an awful lot out of this four minutes of film, especially without the clip being very “word heavy”. But one of the things I also think about when I think about Film Noir is the fact that a lot of the story is generally told visually, and not through the use of words. Using my previous example of “The Maltese Falcon” again, when Sam Spade (Bogart) leaves after his first encounter with “The fat man” (Greenstreet), the quick piece of film showing Spade’s hand shaking tells you more about the character, what he thinks about Casper Gutman, and how he thinks about the entire case, than the total amount of dialogue that had been used in the film up to that point, again, at least in my opinion! I hope others find this helpful, and made you consider more than you did while watching the clip. I also hope that my presentation isn’t just a re-hash of what others may have already written, because, again, I didn’t read any of their thoughts prior to now.