Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

M (1931)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

M (1931, Ger.)

In Fritz Lang's highly-influential, first sound film - an expressionistic thriller about the controversial subject of homicidal pedophilia, and a child molester/murderer who terrorized the German city of Berlin:

  • the opening scene of young Elsie Beckmann (Inge Landgut), after school, bouncing her ball against a billboard, and the shadow of psychopathic Berlin child-killer/molester Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) moving over the poster of the billboard that offered a reward (reading "10,000 Marks of Reward - Who is the Murderer?"); in silhoutte Beckert leaned down and spoke to the girl: ("You have a very beautiful ball. What's your name?...")
  • with his back to the camera, the scene of Beckert's purchase of a balloon (while whistling a few bars of his tell-tale In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt's Suite #1 by Edvard Grieg) from a 'blind man' peddler (Georg John) in order to seduce the young girl
  • soon after, Elsie's place setting at the table was unoccupied and both the ball (bouncing away onto the grass) and the balloon (floating away into telephone lines) were seen - signifying the girl's abduction and murder; an extra edition of the newspaper reported how another young kidnap-murder victim had been claimed (the 9th victim)
Signs of Elsie's Absence
  • the scene of Beckert's grotesque making of faces before a mirror, as investigators reported on the results of handwriting analysis of the killer's anonymous letter to the newspapers
  • the killer's urge to strike again, when he stood at a store window - and in a reflection, he noticed a young girl behind him; he grimaced and moved his hand to his mouth; when she walked away behind him, he turned toward her direction and began nervously whistling his tell-tale tune as he followed after her, but he was thwarted when the girl met her mother; to fortify himself, he sat down at an outdoor cafe and ordered himself two stiff cognac drinks
Beckert's Urge to Kill Again
  • the scene of the blind balloon-seller hearing once again the familiar whistled tune - he recognized it and said to himself: "Wait! Didn't I hear that before? It was - it was...Listen to that, that whistle there"; he called over a friend - a young pickpocket named Heinrich (Carl Balhaus), who saw the whistler walking away with another young girl; the blind man asked Heinrich: "Can't you hear it? There....Have you seen the man who was whistling?...The day when little Elsie Beckmann was murdered, a man bought a balloon from me and there was a little girl with that man. And, and that man was whistling too like the man there"; Heinrich pursued after Beckert and saw him purchasing a gift at a candy store for the young girl; Heinrich marked a large "M" in chalk on his hand, and then struck Beckert on his left shoulder on the back of his overcoat (he pretended to trip on one of Beckert's discarded orange peels on the sidewalk) - in order to brand him with the mark of Cain as an atrocious child-murderer; the innocent young girl ominously handed Beckert back his dropped peeling knife
  • the scene of Beckert's discovery that he was marked with a stain - the little girl told him: "You're stained with something white...There on your shoulder"; Beckert looked backward toward his reflection and realized that he had a letter 'M' (meaning "Morder") chalked on the back of his overcoat at shoulder level
  • the criminal underworld beggars pursued Beckert, eventually seized him, and set him up for a trial to condemn him for his hideous string of crimes
  • the best scene in the film was the lengthy sequence in the kangaroo court in a distillery warehouse - at first Beckert denied everything, but was then accused by the blind balloon-seller of purchasing a balloon for the victim Elsie; Beckert vainly tried to escape from the cellar, but was assaulted and thrown to the floor; although he claimed that they had no right to hold him prisoner or to "neutralize" him, Beckert started to incriminate himself due to the dark forces within him; the tortured, sniveling, mass-murdering offender piteously cried out to defend his actions - and claiming that he was not responsible for his own cursed actions: ("But me, can I behave - can I behave any different? Is it that I don't have this curse inside of me? This fire? This voice? This torment?...I always have to go down the street, and I always feel it behind me. It's myself! And I follow me! In silence. But I can hear it. Yes, sometimes it's like I'm chasing myself. I want to - I want to escape from myself. But I can't. I can't escape from myself. I must - I must follow the way that's chasing me. I must run, run down endless streets. I want to get away. I want to get away. And, running with me, the ghosts of the mothers and the children. They never go away. They're always there! Always! Always! Always! They only disappear when I do it. When I --- Then, I don't remember anything. Then, then I'm standing in front of a sign and I read what I've done. And I read and read. Have I done that? But I can't remember any of that. And who's going to believe me? Who knows what it's like to be me? How it calls me and screams inside of me! How I must do it! I don't want to! I must! I don't want to! I must! And then a voice screams! And I can't hear it anymore. Help! I can't! I can't. I can't! I can't!")
Beckert in the Kangaroo Court Trial -
Held by Underworld Leaders and Beggars
  • the decision of the members of the court was murderous and unmerciful - declaring that Beckert had just signed his own 'death sentence': "That man must be eliminated. That man must disappear" - the mothers of the victims and others in the gallery cried out: "No mercy for the murderer. No mercy. Down with the murderer. He should be killed. Annihilate the beast! Kill him! Kill that animal! Dead! Murder him! Kill him! Away with him! Away with the beast! Kill him! Kill him!"
  • at the end of the accusations, the police intervened (off-screen) - everyone surrendered and raised their hands- and "in the name of Law," a real trial was held; Beckert was prosecuted in a traditional courtroom (where his insanity and illness were taken into account)
  • in the film's conclusion during the trial's announcement of the verdict by the chief judge , the mothers of three of the victims watched in the trial gallery - still in mourning, Elsie's mother Frau Beckmann (Ellen Widmann) warned: "This will not bring our children back to life. People should take better care of their children"

Shadow of Child-Killer

Purchase of Balloon from Blind Man for Elsie

After the Murder, Beckert's Face-Making at Mirror

Blind Balloon-Seller: Recognizing the Familiar Whistled Tune

Beckert Grooming His Next Victim

The Chalk "M" Brand

Young Girl Handing Beckert His Knife

Beckert Marked with "M"

Beckert - Pursued

The Kangaroo Court Trial Attendees and 'Judges'

Elsie's Mother During Reading of Verdict: "This will not bring our children back to life..."


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