Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

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


Guest Richard Edwards

Recommended Posts

Guest LaurelT

Lang sets up an atmosphere of danger immediately with the children singing the "man in black" song.  The first woman calls it a "cursed song," and when she mentions the murderer to the second woman we get the first hint that there is a real menace around.  The overlay of the cuckoo clock and chimes leads directly to the car horn beep warning the girl, who escapes from danger from the car thanks to the police man.  She bounces her ball against the wanted sign, confirming for us that there is indeed a child murderer around, and that she is in direct danger.  Then we see the Man in Black in shadow!  Very effective, especially since it is directed against innocent children.  Th use of sound is briliant-- the ominous song, she sharp, startling notes of cuckoo clock, chimes, and horn.  Contrasted with this, Peter Lorre's voice is sibilant and soothing, which makes it doubly creepy.

 

The use of the "cursed song" was used again and again-- "One, two, Freddie's coming for you" is a recent example.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Sean

I'm pretty new to noir and I'm excited as I'm reading through all of these posts, learning what details about noir show clear in this clip.  What jumped out to me, as a noir newbie, is the precise detail and attention paid to the framing of the mysterious man's shadow against the 'Wanted' sign at the end of the clip.  How precisely it slinked into frame and onto the sign and then, with rising stakes, how perfectly it shifted and framed itself; it enacted an instant feeling of dread and fear for what might in store for the poor, innocent girl.

 

Looking forward to the next daily dose!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Light and dark being used sharply with the shadow of evil on the light background of the poster informing the public of danger.  The alert does no good for the little girl as she simply uses it as a place to bounce her ball ignoring the presence of evil.  

 

Evil makes its appearance through both ominous silhouette and harmless voice.  Sounds throughout the scene often contrast with what is going on visually and can be plainly seen... the cheerfulness of the girl singing of murder for example, which serves to heighten the sense that something is not right in this otherwise "normal" world.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Joan Shack

What struck me most was the silence. It is a neighborhood, in a city, yet there is no background noise. That alone indicates something is not right. When we hear their speech or read the flier, the word that stands out is Murder or a variation of it.  The stark scenes lead up to the best use of shadow I've seen, the man against the flier. You have all the information you need to know what this film is about and when he shows up, my heart sinks.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn't notice anyone mention this yet, but there is also a strong sense of regularity in the locations throughout the opening with strong lines of rails, walls, doors, masonry, until the camera zooms in to the poster.  At that point the only strong lines left are the angles of the hat.  The sequence up to that point not only has regularity of daily life, it also has the regularity of structures.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Marianne

The opening scene of Fritz Lang's M didn't unsettle me at first. The children playing the game that started the scene reminded me of Grimms' fairy tales. The children aren't even aware of the import of their words. But the first adult character, the woman carrying her washing to, it seems, a neighbor washerwoman is upset by the children's game. Her admonishment to them begins the littlest bit of tension. As soon as she's gone from the balcony, the children start their game again, oblivious to the danger that the adults are aware of and seem powerless to do anything about.

 

The children and the two women are in enclosed, cramped settings. None of these characters has much room, and they seem restricted in their actions.

 

The cuckoo clock in the washerwoman's apartment seemed charming to me, but the next sound the viewer hears is the tolling of the bell (I'm assuming it's a church bell). It's loud and insistent -- another uptick in tension.

 

When the film moves outside, to the adults waiting for the schoolchildren at the school's entrance, the sounds seem louder. When the little schoolgirl steps out in the street and a driver honks the car horn, the sound is much louder (even grated on my nerves!).

 

We seem to alternate between felling safe and feeling threatened:

The children playing (safe).

The woman admonishing them (threatened).

The conversation in the washerwoman's apartment (safe). The adults waiting for the schoolchildren (safe again).

The schoolgirl stepping out into traffic (threatened).

The police officer right there to help her (safe).

The schoolgirl playing ball against the notice in German about the reward for information about the murderer (threatened).

And, of course, the shadow of the man in the hat appearing over the words on the reward poster -- more threatening still!

 

For me, this alternation made the building tension that much more effective.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Jessica

I agree those are the songs like the one the children were singing about the man in black that stay with you and give you that creepy feeling.  Much like The Song Lizzie Borden Took an Axe.  The second she started bouncing that ball I knew that something bad was going to happen to her and of course the wanted poster confirmed it.  I love those movies that show us what is about to happen but do that in such a way where we do not see everything that is going to happen.  If that movie were made in this day and age you would have seen the murderer's face and everything he did to the little girl in the first ten minutes.  Nothing is left to the imagination anymore but this movie does exactly that and I think what the mind can imagine is a whole lot worse than anything they could ever show us.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Brian Kramer

The 'boogeyman' lyrics of the children's elimination game: reduced to 'mincemeat' and dismissed, "You're out!";

Insisting the children stop singing the morbid lines because the fear is already realized, not just a game;

Allowing the children to continue to sing because vitality speaks louder than silence;

The cuckoo clock strikes noon, perhaps, a reminder, "Do you know where your child is?!"

Witnessing a child preoccupied with bouncing a ball near traffic and being endangered and alone;

Bouncing ball is a metaphor for child's vitality like a heartbeat;

Silhouetted shadow cast upon a wanted poster outlining killer's latest victims as the ball inevitably ceases to bounce.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest ComaCaptain

The build up of tension in the opening scene is palpable. Foreshadowing the eventual encounter with the killer and another child victim. The use of a dark shadow in the bright noonday as the first time we see the killer is genius. Noir and it's relationship to shadows is just so apparent and well used here without feeling ham fisted.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Christopher Sirr

A good example of how black and white helps the viewer to better absorb both the action and surroundings without the distraction of color.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Myron Hartsfield

For me the opening scene is not only creepy due to the macabre song, but when the mother scolds the children and orders them to stop the singing of the song, I found the prison like bars that made up the porch railing to suggest a heaviness that I associated with being trapped in fear of the murders that were taking place. Then only moments later when the little girl with the ball is approached by the shadowy figure the darkness and danger of the film is firmly established. :ph34r:

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Amy Adams

Watching the opening scene from "M", I first noticed the shadows and the lighting, especially hitting the door on the top of the landing when the washerwoman was carrying the basket of clothes. Two words that would capture my reaction to this scene are shadow and innocence betrayed.

 

Film Noir bases itself on dread and danger, and this is most significant to me as the viewer is presented with a paradox of innocent children playing (a rather nasty game, adding to the taste of Film Noir.)and the fact they are that, children, playing. Fritz Lang demonstrates his genius, by opening the film with this scene, quickly putting the viewer on edge...The reaction of the mother as she takes the wash and pleads with the washerwoman to let the children play..pulls us even more into the waiting danger.

 

As the camera follows the little girl down the street, bouncing her playful ball, I want to hide my eyes because I know what's lurking: the scene, the lighting, the shadows they spell danger. And there by the lampost sign of the missing children, the director brings in the shadow of a man, who bends down to derail innocence. These are the signs that point to peril.

Link to post
Share on other sites

From the very opening shot of M, Fritz Lang is equating innocence and play with death and corruption. The very first shot is from a birds eye view, watching as a group of children circled around one girl who stands in the middle and chants about a murderer coming to get them. This should be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a playground; many playground songs and games revolve around death in one way or another(Ring around the rosie...). Kids don't think about death the way adults do, they see it only as an end to their part in a game.So when one of the kids' mothers leans over a balcony and yells at them to stop singing that horrid song, they wait only until she has retreated out of the film's frame to start the game again.

 

There's an interesting sequence here, between the shot of the kids playing and the next bit of human interaction. Once the mother retreats back into the building, Lang holds the shot for 10 seconds. 10 seconds is an eternity to not have any human presence or action in your movie. He then cuts abruptly to an empty stairway, and waits another 6 seconds before the woman enters the frame. It primes us for something important to happen, and gives us the first subtle, subliminal feeling of dread and anticipation. At the top of the stairs there is a small interaction between two women in the building, in which we learn that the song the children sing is actually in reference to a real string of child murders that have been occurring recently. Death to adults is something much more serious than how it appears to the children.

 

The final sequence in this opening follows a mother as she prepares for her child to return from school, as she cleans and cooks and makes the table. A clock chiming noon is the connective tissue that Lang uses to cut to a school letting out, and here he crosscuts the mother preparing the meal with the daughter walking home(and taking her time about it). The child is still playing, bouncing her ball as she walks, and finally bouncing her ball against a post that is revealed to hold a poster describing in more detail the child murders we've been hearing about. Again Lang is equating playtime with death. Eventually, the killer enters the picture, not as a demon or a monster, but as a simple shadow, slowly creeping into the playtime of a child.

 

I know it's not part of the opening clip, but I think it's interesting to note that this comparison continues. When watching the movie, take note of the two shots Lang uses to tell the audience of what happened to the girl.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Stacy Fitchette

This drew me in immediately. The setting is dreary, dark,  and joyless.  No music, just darkness.  What time of day is it?  The children are singing about a murderer as weary mothers go about their chores in their bleak apartments and the daily routine of returning home from school is about to be interrupted in a very bad way.  The sense of doom is quite real from the start.  It's a great start to the film and I anxiously await its screening.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Havard

For me, visual display is important as the film opens.  Only one character is introduced against the backdrop of a wanted poster, and only as a shadow.  Whether they are young or old, ugly or attractive, all of the other characters are introduced as being more or less like you and I ....

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you've pretty much nailed it. I covered similar ground in my post, but I think Lang is intentionally comparing innocence with danger. The children are playing, but playing a game about death. The child who meets the killer at the end is bouncing her ball off of a poster detailing the murders of children. Have you seen the rest of the film? The next minute or two heightens that comparison.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Guest

What's left to be said that isn't mentioned above? The scene starts out with focus on very mundane activities. The kids seem to be totally unaware of the tension felt by the adults. I noticed, same as Emerdelac above, the transition as the little girl nearl escapes being hit by the car and then begins her journey hoe. Everything becomes menacing. Even the sound of the ball hitting the sidewalk.The mother's joy in anticipating her child home is heartbreaking now that we have been introduced to "The Man in Black." Anxious to see what comes next.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Marianne

The opening scene of Fritz Lang's M didn't unsettle me at first. The children playing the game that started the scene reminded me of Grimms' fairy tales. The children aren't even aware of the import of their words. But the first adult character, the woman carrying her washing to, it seems, a neighbor washerwoman is upset by the children's game. Her admonishment to them begins the littlest bit of tension. As soon as she's gone from the balcony, the children start their game again, oblivious to the danger that the adults are aware of and seem powerless to do anything about.

 

The children and the two women are in enclosed, cramped settings. None of these characters has much room, and they seem restricted in their actions.

 

The cuckoo clock in the washerwoman's apartment seemed charming to me, but the next sound the viewer hears is the tolling of the bell (I'm assuming it's a church bell). It's loud and insistent -- another uptick in tension.

 

When the film moves outside, to the adults waiting for the schoolchildren at the school's entrance, the sounds seem louder. When the little schoolgirl steps out in the street and a driver honks the car horn, the sound is much louder (even grated on my nerves!).

 

We seem to alternate between felling safe and feeling threatened:

The children playing (safe).

The woman admonishing them (threatened).

The conversation in the washerwoman's apartment (safe). The adults waiting for the schoolchildren (safe again).

The schoolgirl stepping out into traffic (threatened).

The police officer right there to help her (safe).

The schoolgirl playing ball against the notice in German about the reward for information about the murderer (threatened).

And, of course, the shadow of the man in the hat appearing over the words on the reward poster -- more threatening still!

 

For me, this alternation made the building tension that much more effective.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Travis

From the very opening seconds we are put in a very off kilter world.  Children singing a song about at "man in black" invokes images of a "boogie man".  It's a common thing many did a child to scare one another. It's not hard when at that age so much of the world is unknown and supernatural.  Once adults however we know that real evil walks among us.   All very dark and ominous subject matter.  The words "cleaver's blade" and "mincemeat" drive it home.  

 

The slide and pan up to the mother on the balcony is a nice touch.. holding the tension without cutting away.  The feeling of dread created by the song continues to resonate audibly when the children continue to sing off screen, even after being told not to and when the women talk about "that awful song."

Once inside the apartment we hear the woman say "as long as we hear the children we know they are still alive".. and yet the camera pulls back at an angle as if to say we don't fully believe her... we don't believe the kids are safe at all. And of course the next scene says so when the girl nearly wanders into traffic.

 

The shadow of the hatted man coming into view directly over the word "murderer" really scares the bejeesus out of us.  We imagine him so hideous that they can't even show his face on camera... and really what is more hideous than a child murderer?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Emma Boyer

The opening scene is quite remarkable, the way Lang uses the children perfectly sets up particular things about the killer. Having the light be as bright as it is gives the town almost a serene appeal even with the heinous singing of the children. Till the man in black appears does the shadow give you doubt of the pleasant village. The cursed song is a sign all unto its self. Children often sing lullabies that are conspicuous towards apprehension. Cuckoo clocks are always seemingly an indication of the terror that is about to arise. The laughter of children and the ringing of church bells makes for a peaceful and almost delightful  prospect, but when you pay attention to the words do you fell queasy and disturbed.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

Several things intrigued me about the opening scenes. The camera angle looking over the children as they play, rather than from their point of view, establishes a somewhat paternalistic/voyeuristic mood. The sparseness of sound within the courtyard is also interesting. The only sound you hear is the echo of the children's song-no wind, no birds, no ambient noise at all until the woman on the balcony yell's for them to stop. Her warning also made me feel that she had a personal connection to the events in the song. It wasn't plain annoyance, but rather terror in her voice. Again in the last scene, the anonymous shadow is looking over the girl from same paternalistic/ominous angle the camera opened with. The tension set up between the policeman and this anonymous shadow is also an intriguing part of the scene because it establishes the normalcy of the man in shadow. He isn't monstrous, but rather he is out and about interacting with society, under the nose of the law. This opening portion ends mysteriously because although the audience is led to believe the man in shadow is the murderer, his anonymity allows for hope that the girl is still safe.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Several things intrigued me about the opening scenes. The camera angle looking over the children as they play, rather than from their point of view, establishes a somewhat paternalistic/voyeuristic mood. The sparseness of sound within the courtyard is also interesting. The only sound you hear is the echo of the children's song-no wind, no birds, no ambient noise at all until the woman on the balcony yell's for them to stop. Her warning also made me feel that she had a personal connection to the events in the song. It wasn't plain annoyance, but rather terror in her voice. Again in the last scene, the anonymous shadow is looking over the girl from same paternalistic/ominous angle the camera opened with. The tension set up between the policeman and this anonymous shadow is also an intriguing part of the scene because it establishes the normalcy of the man in shadow. He isn't monstrous, but rather he is out and about interacting with society, under the nose of the law. This opening portion ends mysteriously because although the audience is led to believe the man in shadow is the murderer, his anonymity allows for hope that the girl is still safe.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It seemed like the girl in the center of the game was selecting the next victim. Lang use of daylight , the child is not in shadows or alone, but in the middle of the day with people all around the young girl makes the scene even more ominous. This is a great piece of film making by Fritz Lang and a standout performance by Peter Lorre. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think you need to worry about writing without stage directions. There's no way this scene could be written without stage directions. As a writer you need to make the world(and that includes things in it) visible to the reader. I wouldn't go overboard and micromanage every little prop and actor movement, but describing a few scenes and even the angles to give a setup for the reader would really be crucial in getting across the feeling of this type of setup.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...