M (1951)

87-88 or 90 mins | Drama | March 1951

Director:

Joseph Losey

Producer:

Seymour Nebenzal

Cinematographer:

Ernest Laszlo

Editor:

Edward Mann

Production Designer:

Martin Obzina

Production Company:

Superior Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

According to HR news items, United Artists was initially listed as the distribution company for the film. Other HR news items indicate that Muriel Maddox, Marjorie Nelson, Sammy Pierce and John Merrick were added to the cast, but their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. J. Roy Hunt was originally set as the film's director of photography, but left the production for another assignment. According to DV, the state of Ohio rejected the film, banning all theatrical screenings; Superior Films appealed the ruling all the way to U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome of the case has not been determined, but information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicate that Ohio approved the film without cuts in 1954. This film and Twentieth Century-Fox's Fourteen Hours (see entry) were actor Howard DaSilva's last films before being blacklisted. DaSilva worked on the stage from 1953 on, but did not return to motion pictures until 1963. Facing the blacklist, director Joseph Losey left the United States and continued to work in Europe. Several other actors, including Karen Morley and Luther Adler, suffered career setbacks because of their political views.
       Although not mentioned in the onscreen credits, this film is a remake of a 1931 German picture also titled M, whose producer, Seymour Nebenzal, also produced this version. The original was written by Thea von Harbou, directed by her husband Fritz Lang, and starred actor Peter Lorre. Character names from the original were Anglicized for the U.S. version.
       An opening credit reads: "Made at Motion Picture Center Studios, Hollywood, California, U.S.A.," but ... More Less

According to HR news items, United Artists was initially listed as the distribution company for the film. Other HR news items indicate that Muriel Maddox, Marjorie Nelson, Sammy Pierce and John Merrick were added to the cast, but their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. J. Roy Hunt was originally set as the film's director of photography, but left the production for another assignment. According to DV, the state of Ohio rejected the film, banning all theatrical screenings; Superior Films appealed the ruling all the way to U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome of the case has not been determined, but information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicate that Ohio approved the film without cuts in 1954. This film and Twentieth Century-Fox's Fourteen Hours (see entry) were actor Howard DaSilva's last films before being blacklisted. DaSilva worked on the stage from 1953 on, but did not return to motion pictures until 1963. Facing the blacklist, director Joseph Losey left the United States and continued to work in Europe. Several other actors, including Karen Morley and Luther Adler, suffered career setbacks because of their political views.
       Although not mentioned in the onscreen credits, this film is a remake of a 1931 German picture also titled M, whose producer, Seymour Nebenzal, also produced this version. The original was written by Thea von Harbou, directed by her husband Fritz Lang, and starred actor Peter Lorre. Character names from the original were Anglicized for the U.S. version.
       An opening credit reads: "Made at Motion Picture Center Studios, Hollywood, California, U.S.A.," but most of the film was shot in downtown Los Angeles in the nineteenth-century Bunker Hill neighborhood and inside the 1893 Bradbury Building at Broadway and W. Third Street. Other scenes were shot at Ocean Park in Santa Monica, CA.
       Associate producer Harold Nebenzal loaned the AFI viewer a newly restored copy of M in 2016. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Mar 1951.
---
Daily Variety
5 Mar 51
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Aug 1953.
---
Film Daily
5 Mar 51
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 50
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 50
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 50
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jun 50
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 50
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jun 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Mar 51
p. 3.
Los Angeles Daily News
14 Jun 1950.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
3 Mar 51
pp. 741-42.
New York Times
11 Jun 51
p. 20.
Variety
7 Mar 51
p. 6.
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1951
Production Date:
5 June--7 July 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Superior Pictures
Copyright Date:
7 March 1951
Copyright Number:
LP885
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
87-88 or 90
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
14732
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a large city, a series of violent murders of young girls terrorizes citizens and baffles police. A nervous young man, Martin Harrow, stalks several children and soon focuses his attention on a little girl playing alone at a neighborhood carnival. Martin buys a balloon from a blind street vendor, then walks away with the child, whistling a peculiar tune. Later, after the child's body is discovered, police chief Regan makes a television announcement disclosing that evidence collected in the case indicates the same modus operandi found in previous killings, death by strangulation and the shoes of the victim taken. After the police warn the public to take extreme caution and report all suspicious behavior, many people overreact and harass several innocent men. At police headquarters, the mayor demands an arrest from Regan and the head of homicide, Carney, both of whom are stymied by lack of evidence. In frustration, Carney orders raids across the city, hoping to uncover a lead. At one bar, washed out attorney Daniel Langley evades serious questioning by the police and reports to his current employer, underworld boss Charlie Marshall. Equally frustrated that the endless raids are disrupting his illegal activities, Marshall and his cohorts begin their own citywide search for the culprit, whom they dub "M" for murderer. At police headquarters, a psychologist runs a profile on the killer, suggesting that he is possibly a paranoid schizophrenic with some childhood trauma. As the police detectives begin investigating single men with a history of mental illness, they come upon Martin's ... +


In a large city, a series of violent murders of young girls terrorizes citizens and baffles police. A nervous young man, Martin Harrow, stalks several children and soon focuses his attention on a little girl playing alone at a neighborhood carnival. Martin buys a balloon from a blind street vendor, then walks away with the child, whistling a peculiar tune. Later, after the child's body is discovered, police chief Regan makes a television announcement disclosing that evidence collected in the case indicates the same modus operandi found in previous killings, death by strangulation and the shoes of the victim taken. After the police warn the public to take extreme caution and report all suspicious behavior, many people overreact and harass several innocent men. At police headquarters, the mayor demands an arrest from Regan and the head of homicide, Carney, both of whom are stymied by lack of evidence. In frustration, Carney orders raids across the city, hoping to uncover a lead. At one bar, washed out attorney Daniel Langley evades serious questioning by the police and reports to his current employer, underworld boss Charlie Marshall. Equally frustrated that the endless raids are disrupting his illegal activities, Marshall and his cohorts begin their own citywide search for the culprit, whom they dub "M" for murderer. At police headquarters, a psychologist runs a profile on the killer, suggesting that he is possibly a paranoid schizophrenic with some childhood trauma. As the police detectives begin investigating single men with a history of mental illness, they come upon Martin's boardinghouse and, claiming to be from the Health Department, search his room in his absence. They find nothing out of the ordinary except a lamp with a shoelace tied to the switch. Upon reporting to Carney, the detectives mention the shoelace and abruptly decide to return to the boardinghouse. Examining Martin's closet they find no shoes missing a lace, but after further investigation discover a false panel in the floor, beneath which are a collection of little girls's shoes. Meanwhile, at the carnival, Martin lures another little girl with a balloon. When he departs playing a small pipe, the vendor recalls the unusual tune and summons help. A young man, part of Marshall's extensive street network, follows Martin and finds the opportunity to mark the letter "M" on his coat with coal as a signal to others on the streets. Word of Martin's identity spreads through the streets quickly, and several men follow him as he leads the little girl through the city. With the discovery of the shoes, Carney and the police also begin an intense search for Martin. Realizing he is being trailed, Martin takes the little girl into the Bradbury building, where he evades his hunters by hiding on the top floor. When the building security guard inadvertently locks him and the girl in a room, Martin panics and struggles frantically to break out. Marshall is informed that "M" has been cornered and orders several of his gang to the building, where they torture the guard to find out Martin's location. Marshall arrives and the search continues, eventually setting off the security alarm. When Martin's frantic pounding is heard, Marshall's men break into the room, release the child and carry Martin away as the police arrive below. Two of Marshall's men are captured, and they reveal Marshall's hideout, an underground garage, where a crowd soon gathers for a mock trial of Martin. The balloon vendor is brought in as a witness, and when Marshall tells the crowd Martin should be turned over to the police, they adamantly refuse, wanting to punish him themselves. Marshall encourages a drunken Langley to defend Martin, who eventually testifies for himself. Martin claims that his mother taught him that men were born evil and cruel and he believed he was saving children from them. He pleads to be punished for his actions, but when Langley accuses Marshall and his gang of their own criminality, Marshall shoots him. As the crowd descends upon Martin, the police arrive, arrest Marshall and take Martin, still pleading to be punished. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.