DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "M" - The Criterion Collection (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Dec 15, 2004.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    M
    The Criterion Collection





    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1931
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 110 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.19:1
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: German
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $39.95
    Package: Two discs in a double sized Keepcase





    The Feature:
    Usually, you can be pretty much guaranteed that if I purchase a disc, a new and improved special edition or a collector’s version announcement will soon follow – perhaps even in the same week. Remarkably, M was a title on my radar for some time and for some strange reason, I never picked it up. When I learned of the re-release earlier in the year that would include a new digital transfer from better elements, I felt redeemed – finally, my waiting paid off. But was it worth the wait? You betcha!

    For those not familiar with Fritz Lang, he just might very well be the director responsible for turning out the majority of great films that we would now refer to as Film Noir. He was responsible many films of the genre such as; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), Human Desire (1954), The Big Heat (1953), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Clash by Night (1952), Scarlet Street (1945), You Only Live Once (1937) and Fury (1936) not to mention the film he’ll probably be most remembered for, the 1927 silent science fiction classic Metropolis. M doesn’t necessarily qualify as a true Film Noir, but I’d most certainly call it one of the finest examples of German expressionism as well as a solid Noir precursor, complete with a surplus of skillfully lit shots and plenty of shadowy imagery.

    Berlin is a city under siege. The residents are terrified to a point of hysteria as a psychopath is preying on their children. Posters are hung throughout the city and parents are warned of the predator who lurks about after a number of children have been abducted and murdered. We first meet Hans Beckert (played by a very young Peter Lorre) who lures a young girl, Elsie Beckmann (played by Inge Landgut) on her way home from school, as he buys her balloons. As the time passes by and other school kids return home, Elsie’s mother (played by Ellen Widmann) anxiously awaits her daughter’s arrival, but the little girl never appears.

    Politicians and police officials are feeling the pressure of the community who naturally, want this madman captured. The police plead with the entire community to become involved, not only by caring for the safety of their children, but by offering whatever clues they may have in solving these heinous crimes. The result is an all-out attack on criminals on all fronts with the hope of flushing out whoever is responsible. One of the investigators in charge of the case is Inspector Karl Lohmann (played by Otto Wernicke - whose role would be reprised as the promoted Commissioner in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse two years later).

    Ironically, police get their biggest lead from an unexpected source, the organized crime syndicate of Berlin. As a result of the police operation, the crime syndicate now has their hands tied which is putting a crimp on the day to day activities of their illegal activities. They unanimously decide to take matters into their own hands and find this killer before they, themselves, are shut down. Disenchanted with the efforts of the authorities, the residents begin a vigilant search and the race is on to see who will capture Beckert so the city can rest easy again.

    Unlike today’s psychological thrillers, there’s no bloody violence or gruesomeness. The despicable acts committed by Beckert are merely inferred or hinted to. There are many scenes here that are brilliantly framed and filmed. Lang captures the torment and hysteria by a simpler, perhaps even more effective means such as the killer whistling a song as walks off with the kittle girl, the emphasis of an empty place setting in the girl’s kitchen, the girl’s ball rolling off in an empty field and balloons snagged and dangling from overhead wires. We know darn well what’s happened, there’s no need for explicit visuals that are now commonplace with contemporary films. Lang’s visual style is the definition of less equals more, certainly from a stylistic standpoint. M is a superb film and is a testament of the brilliance of Lang and what he was capable of, placing him among the list of greatest directors – ever.

    As for the packaging, the set consists of two discs that are housed in a thick double Keepcase adorned with cover art that captures perfectly, the creepiness of Lorre when he makes an important discovery. The set also contains two inserts; the first, a catalog of the Criterion Collection and the other is a fantastic 30 page booklet which contains a Cast & Crew listing, a Chapter List, essays by Stanley Kauffmann and Gabriele Tergit, an article that was published in “Film-Journal” - a German independent film industry trade paper, scripted lines from a missing scene and an interview with Fritz Lang conducted by Gero Gandert in 1963. This booklet alone would be the highlight of most special features, never mind a second disc that is committed to them – we’ll get to those below. Fantastic.

    The Feature: 5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    As I indicated earlier in the review, unfortunately (er… fortunately…), I am unable to compare this to the earlier release, but from all accounts, it would seem as though the improvement is a revelation over the previous Criterion version and slightly superior to the 2003 Eureka Region 2 version. The DVD Beaver has some very impressive screen caps, highlighting the enormity of the improvements. This transfer is very impressive – and frankly, it’s hard to believe this film was shot in 1931. Presented in its original AR of 1.19:1, the image appears quite narrower than a 4:3 image and appropriately has relatively thick “pillarboxing” at the sides of the image. This presentation surpasses many of the classic titles from the 50’s and 60’s that have recently been released.

    During the opening credits and first couple of minutes, there is a lot of shimmer, particularly during the opening scene. Thankfully, that is short lived and the rest of the film goes on beautifully. Blacks were exceptional – always deep resulting in a grayscale that was most impressive. Whites were nicely contrasted and always appeared to be stark and clean. There was an impressive amount of shadow detail as well. Contrast was very good.

    There was a hint of fine grain throughout the entire film which rendered a very pleasing film-like picture. Equally impressive was a nice sense of dimensionality during many of the scenes.

    Image detail was most impressive at times with the film looking only slightly soft on occasion. There was only a minimal amount of dirt, dust and debris and vertical scratches were present occasionally but never to a point of distraction. Light shimmer was present initially and persisted during the opening scene, but only showed up now and again throughout the film. There was no evidence of any compression issues but I did detect some haloing from time to time, but considering the end result, it’s a minor shortcoming that I’m more than happy to live with.

    I’m awarding full marks since this 1931 film simply couldn’t look any better. This new version is a remarkable accomplishment – great job Criterion…!!

    Video: 5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    Ironically, M was Fritz Lang’s first foray into talking pictures and he uses it, and its lack thereof - at times, to such an extent that many contemporary films are unable to equal the end result. There are several long shots when the audio disappears and the silence is literally deafening – heightening the tension and mood of this thrilling film.

    The soundtrack is a Dolby Digital Monaural which does an admirable job with very few problems to speak of.

    First off, there is very little hiss to speak of. It is present from time to time, but never becomes intrusive or bothersome. There are a couple of pops and a few occasions where compression is evident, but again, these were exceptions to the rule.

    Dialogue was for the most part clear and bold and overall the tonality of the track seemed natural and never become shrill or grating.

    Needless to say the track is rather thin but offers a little more oomph than you might imagine and the track is more than adequate at performing what needs to be done.

    The audio on the film is German with optional English subtitles which apparently have been recently re-translated.

    Audio: 4.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    The special features that have been included are about as good as it gets. Not only are the plentiful, but they are highly informative. Disc one starts with a:
    [*] Commentary with University of California at Berkeley’s Anton Kaes author of the BFI’s Film Classics Volume on M. Also present is Harvard University professor Eric Rentschler, author of The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and its Afterlife. There is a great deal of discussion pertaining to the history of the film and its production as well as its place in German film history and culture. It’s perhaps a little on the scholarly side but these two are obviously more than qualified to discuss Lang and his film and their passion for this film is more than evident.


    Disc Two:
    [*] A Conversation With Fritz Lang. In 1975, the year before Fritz Lang died, William Friedkin spent two days interviewing the aging but brilliant director who speaks quite frankly offering details of his personal life and provides a great deal of insight to his career. It’s fairly well known that Lang had a propensity for telling long tales and there is even a disclaimer stating as much. Very interesting. Duration: 49:26 minutes.
    [*] Claude Chabrol’s M le maudit is a 1982, French television production which was commissioned when various French directors were asked to pay tribute to their favorite films and directors - Claude Chabrol, who chose M, also discusses the influence of Lang and M on his own work. Duration: 10:44 and 6:47 minutes.
    [*] Harold Nebenzal Interview. Harold was the son of M producer Seymour, who discusses his father’s production of Nero Independent Films. Harold Nebenzal himself, worked on the 1951 Joseph Losey remake of M, a Columbia noir which sadly has yet to be released on DVD. Also discussed is a brief bio on his father relating to his work on film as well as his father’s personal life while residing in Germany at the time. He offers up his take on the film (as well as the remake) in terms of what the Nazi’s thought of it. Interesting little feature. Duration: 14:31 minutes.
    [*] Paul Falkenberg’s Classroom Tapes includes classroom tapes of M's original editor who discusses the film with students of New School University in New York as the students watched the film with Falkenberg, the conversations and classroom discussions were recorded. Duration: 36:09 minutes.
    [*] A Physical History of M speaks of the history relating to the aspect ratio of the film including the various running times of the film and an all around general history of M. A great deal of time is spent discussing the linguistics barrier of the times with the distribution of films to other countries and includes shots of Peter Lorre reciting lines in French comparing both version in side by side comparisons noting the extra editing that was required for the French version. Fantastic featurette. Duration: 25:08 minutes.
    [*] And finally, a Stills Gallery which features a number of behind the scenes photos and shots, movie posters as well as production sketches.

    Special Features: 5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    M is a film that stays with you long after viewing it. Save for the surrounding visuals and its black and white photography, it is a film that feels like a recent production. The movie is as gripping and as engaging as any film to come out of Hollywood in recent years – a film that was decades ahead of its time. The film also allows Peter Lorre, the ultimate in thespian creepiness, to showcase his brilliance as he turns in, what might very well be the finest performance of his career.

    M is a captivating film and Criterion has done the film the justice it so rightly deserves with a presentation that is remarkable and they’ve complemented it with special features that are thoroughly informative. If you’re a fan of Lang and his films, this is a must buy!

    Overall Rating: 5/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]





    Release Date: December 7th, 2004
     
  2. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Great review, as always, Herb. I watched the new edition of M last Friday evening and the film is simply breathtaking in terms of its ability to draw the viewer into the story. Lang is one of my favorite filmmakers and M is a testament to his gifts as a director.

    Just a magnificent film and a DVD presentation that does justice to the film. Kudos to Criterion for what (IMHO) is easily one of the best DVD releases of the year.

    - Walter.
     
  3. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    Always nice to read Herb's reviews. Lang is one of my favorite directors, and all his noirs are amongst my favorite films, especially one Herb didn't list, Woman in the Window.

    The transfer blows away the old Criterion, but I don't find it significantly better than the Eureka, which I've had since it came out. It's a bit better, yes, but it's the Friedkin interview which made this a must-purchase even though I have the Eureka.

    And I don't believe the Losey M has ever been available on video - and, in fact, I can't even remember it being shown on TV in the last thirty years.
     
  4. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    I'm all over this one. Thanks for the great review.

    -Scott
     
  5. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    I rented "M" several years ago and it bowled me over. Usually when I watch a classic film I switch to my "old film mode," qualifying things like the humor and culture in respect to the time period in which the film was made. Basically, I tend to think of classic films as being "quaint" and generally they are. I've only seen a few older films that have not required that filter and therefore seem timeless to me - "M" being one of them. Thanks for the review Herb!
     
  6. NeilK

    NeilK Stunt Coordinator

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    Definitely worth the upgrade[​IMG]
     
  7. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    One of the greatest achievements in all of Cinema by one of my favourite filmmakers finally gets the deluxe treaments it deserves. I held off buying the R2 Eureka when I heard the rumour of a Criterion remaster and I am over the moon about the results: the transfer is amazing for an ill-treated film from 1931. The Friedkin interview, which I had heard about for years but always illuded me is priceless. All other extras are exemplary; a strong, tight package from Criterion here. Most impressive.

    Now... if only we could more of Lang's films presented this way.
     
  8. MikeHughes

    MikeHughes Agent

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    I own the Eureka release, but my fingers are itching to order this Criterion release as well. [​IMG]
     
  9. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Excellent review Herb. UPS should be at my door in the morning with my copy (as well as those Warner/Stevens releases).

    Hopefully Lang's FURY will arrive next year.
     
  10. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    what are the differences between the Eureka & Criterion ?
     
  11. Vincent Matis

    Vincent Matis Second Unit

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    Oscar, there's a link to DVDBeaver in the "Video" section of the review...
     
  12. Bleddyn Williams

    Bleddyn Williams Supporting Actor

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    I have both the Criterion and the Eureka, and my preferance is the new Criterion. Although at DVDbeaver you can read Torsten Kaiser's comments that the Eureka disc does NOT have edge enhancement etc, the end result does have that look to my eyes. I don't doubt Torsten's word, but am just saying that the end result nonetheless looks like EE.

    The Criterion offers the detail of the Eureka, but a more natural, less "enhanced" look. I know which one I will watch in future.

    Having said that, both sets have different extras, which are very enjoyable. I'll happily keep both![​IMG]
     
  13. PaulP

    PaulP Producer

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    Judging by the Beaver comparison (and I have the new M on hand, just not watched it yet, and I don't have the Eureka version), the new Criterion transfer is indeed significantly better than the Eureka, at least to my eyes. The Eureka seems to have been artificially sharpened and brightened, resulting in degradation of image, whereas the Criterion is smily smooth, as it should be. Cannot wait for this weekend: have M, ROTK EE, and many others to watch!
     
  14. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Bleddyn, there most certainly is EE visible on the newest version, but as I said in my review, I never felt it was intrusive enough to make a big deal about it. However, the "overall" picture is indeed gorgeous.
     
  15. Bleddyn Williams

    Bleddyn Williams Supporting Actor

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    Argh! Herb, my EE comments related to the Eureka. I can see why you thought I meant the Criterion, though. Chalk it up to my dusty english! I will tidy up my post a bit.
     
  16. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    Folks, I've got both DVDs and the Criterion, while slightly smoother, is not "significantly" better. It's a great DVD, and so is the Eureka, and, as someone has pointed out, the extras are very different. I wouldn't be without either of them.
     
  17. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    Does anyone have any good Fritz Lang anecdotes?

    I have one: The countdown used during rocket and shuttle launches derives from Lang's The Woman in the Moon - Lang reversed the count to build suspense.

    Isn't that weird?
     

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