M (Joseph Losey / U.S., 1951):

Joseph Losey on Lang like Dalí on Millet, a painter’s copy. The "Baby Killer" is promptly identified under the credits, he’s the shabby figure riding in the back of the trolley, the silhouette getting a shoeshine who tenses up at the sight of a little girl. Whole sequences from the original are dutifully reproduced, the compulsive whistling, the sightless balloon merchant at the fairgrounds, the mother growing desperate by the empty table. But then the insinuating hysteria from The Lawless starts to permeate the tale, and by the time arrested suspects are framed squabbling over a red dress ("What are ya, a Communist?"), the vision is Losey’s. The Mayor (Jim Backus) is a vaudevillian after Rorschach results, the police chief (Howard Da Silva) has his hands full with bloodthirsty cops. The underworld kingpin (Martin Gabel) keeps his henchman (Raymond Burr) armed with street informers and his attorney (Luther Adler) hooked on booze and self-loathing, "that’s the value of organization." At the center is a psychopath (David Wayne) so choked with Freudian anguish that he strangulates clay dolls while a portrait of Mother judges in silence. (Later, he slouches on a park bench and plays a tin flute while vertiginous cityscapes surge behind him, a bent mental horizon.) Less geometric trap than floating crap game, filtered through pale sunlight rather than engulfing shadows, this is as much a document about Los Angeles in the McCarthy years as Lang's film was a snapshot of Weimar Berlin. It builds to a remarkable search of the Bradbury Building’s echoing, zigzagging innards, with Wayne dragged from a room full of disembodied mannequins to an impromptu tribunal in a cavernous garage. "You have to be hurt to be good," moans the culprit under a harsh spotlight, quoting maternal advice in a sort of woozy beatnik incantation until Adler’s disgraced lawyer roars back to outraged life. "Who's killed our children’s hopes?" A society of persecution laid jaggedly bare, from one poet of paranoia to another. (Kurosawa in High and Low has the unofficial third panel.) With Steve Brodie, Glenn Anders, Norman Lloyd, Walter Burke, John Miljan, and Karen Morley. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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