M (1951, Joseph Losey)

“What are we looking for? A man with a twisted mind. It could be anybody.”

Losey needs to sue Edgar Wright:

Opening music sounds like a variation on “when you wish upon a star,” then the movie proceeds to introduce and murder little Elsie, who bears the same name and receives the same balloon which drifts evocatively into the same power lines as the Fritz Lang original. Killer David Wayne has a less distinctive voice than Peter Lorre, and plays a tin flute, and the movie has a less distinctive, shadowy and angular look than the original. I thought the movie would have more of a reason to exist, maybe some anti-McCarthyism sentiment beneath the surface, but it’s really just an English version of the Lang movie, with a few changes.

You can just see the “M” reflected in the Chiclets mirror:

I’m not against the changes, either. I always felt the original was a little over-long in the second half. This one tightens it up, and expands the role of the man chosen to defend the killer after the criminals abduct him from his shopping-center hideout. Langley is a lawyer who became a hopeless drunk and now works for crime boss Charlie (the movie never considered that crime bosses might prefer a sober, competent lawyer). In the parking garage he’s given the task of defending Wayne so the riled-up crowd won’t dispatch the killer before the cops show, but Langley rises to the occasion and turns on his boss, who shoots Langley in front of the just-arriving police force, who cart away both the murderers together. In exchange for the lawyer additions, the movie cuts details of the beggar organization from the original, which was always one of my favorite parts.

David Wayne and prey, trapped in a mannequin shop:

Losey and actor Howard Da Silva (chief inspector on the case) would soon be on the hollywood blacklist. I assume Larry Cohen was responding to this when he cast Da Silva as the President in his Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. D.P. Ernest Laszlo had just shot D.O.A., would later handle Kiss Me Deadly (with director Robert Aldrich, who assisted on this picture) and While The City Sleeps for M originator Fritz Lang.

I liked the blind balloon vendor. John Miljan had appeared in Buster Keaton movies (not the good ones) in the early 30’s.

Lawyer Langley (below right) was Luther Adler of D.O.A. and House of Strangers, and his boss (below center) was Martin Gabel of The Thief the following year. The prolific David Wayne played one of the millionaires in How to Marry a Millionaire, and I described him as “sort of an annoying Donald O’Connor” in Adam’s Rib. Generally in musical comedy roles, I have no idea how he ended up as a desperate serial child killer.

Careful phrasing in the media about the murdered children: “the kids were neither violated nor outraged.”