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M (1931) - Fritz Lang

Related: children - sex crime - serial killer - Fritz Lang - psychological thriller - German cinema - German expressionism

Peter Lorre in M (1931)

M - (1931) - Fritz Lang [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


M (original title: M- Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (translation: M- a city in search of a murderer)) is a 1931 German film noir directed by Fritz Lang and written by Thea von Harbou in which a serial killer, played by Peter Lorre, preys on children; the police and criminal underground of Berlin both work to stop him. M was the first starring role for Peter Lorre, and it boosted his career, even though he was typecast as a villain for years after.

Peter Lorre's character whistles the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg in the movie; however, Peter Lorre himself could not whistle - it is actually Fritz Lang who is heard.

The film was based in part on the stories of Jack the Ripper and the Vampire of Düsseldorf and consistently ranks among the top 50 of the Internet Movie Database's top 250 films.

Lorre's future stardom and reputation as an actor was cemented in the film's climax, in which the killer, facing certain death at the hands of an underworld kangaroo court, makes an impassioned speech declaring that he can't control his violent urges. The monologue ends with the famous line (delivered by Lorre in a near scream) "Who knows what it's like to be me?"

The movie was remade in 1951 shifting the action from Berlin to Los Angeles. The remake, directed by Joseph Losey with David Wayne playing Lorre's role, was not well received by critics or audiences. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_(1931_movie) [Aug 2005]

Peter Kürten (1883 - 1932)

Peter Kürten was a serial killer dubbed The Vampire of Düsseldorf by the contemporary media. He committed a series of sex crimes, assaults and murders against adults and children, most notoriously from February to November 1929 in Düsseldorf.

Kürten was born into a poverty-stricken, abusive family in Mülheim (now a district of Cologne) on May 26, 1883, the third of thirteen children. Disturbed from an early age, he grew into a petty criminal and often ran away from home. He later claimed to have committed his first murders at the age of nine, drowning two young friends while swimming. He moved with his family to Düsseldorf in 1894 and received a number of short prison sentences for various crimes, including theft and arson. His violent tendencies increased as he progressed from torturing animals to attacks on people. He committed his first provable murder in 1913 during the course of a burglary, by strangling a young girl. His crimes were then halted by the First World War and an eight-year sentence in prison. In 1921 he left prison and moved to Altenburg, where he married. He returned to Düsseldorf in 1925 to later begin the series of crimes that would last until his capture.

On February 8, 1929, he assaulted a woman and sexually molested and murdered an eight-year-old girl. On February 13, he murdered a middle-aged mechanic, stabbing him twenty times. Kürten did not attack again until August, stabbing three people in separate attacks on the 21st; murdering two sisters, aged five and fourteen, on the 23rd; and stabbing another woman on the 24th. In September he committed a single rape and murder and in October another, also attacking two women with a hammer. On November 7 he killed a five-year-old girl and sent a map to a local newspaper disclosing her grave. The variety of victims and methods led to the assumption that there had to be more than one killer at large, and over 900,000 different names were given to the police as potential suspects.

The November murder was Kürten's last, although there were a spate of non-fatal hammer attacks from February to March 1930. In May he accosted a young woman called Maria Budlick (or Budlies), and took her first to his home and then to the Grafenberger Woods where he raped her, but left her alive. Budlick led the police to Kürten's home. He was concerned over the sentence he would receive for the rape and avoided the police. Kürten told his wife of the rape and also of his other crimes, and he told her to inform the police. On May 24 he was located and arrested.

Kürten confessed to almost eighty offences, and was charged with nine murders and seven attempted murders. He went to trial in April 1931, and initially he pleaded not guilty, but after some weeks changed his plea. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed by guillotine in Köln on the morning of July 2, 1932.

The Kürten case was important in the evolution of police investigations regarding the capture of serial killers. It was the first time profiling was used to determine the criminal viability of possible suspects. The process as used by German authorities ultimately suffered a fatal flaw when the police decided wrongly that the killer was insane; Kürten was, in fact, in perfect mental health. Regardless, profiling of suspects was carried out in many cases of serial killings following the Kürten incidents.

In 1931, Fritz Lang's movie M was released. It told a fictionalized story of a serial child killer and was in part based on Kürten's crime spree, primarily concerning itself with the atmosphere of hysteria surrounding the case. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_K%C3%BCrten [Dec 2005]

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