Fritz Lang, probably better known for the masterful `Metropolis', is responsible for this rather disturbing and thought provoking study of a serial child killer in mid war Germany. The story has been compellingly constructed by a master craftsman. From the earliest scenes of a mother waiting for her child to come home, through the police hunt for the killer, then the trial at the end, with Peter Lorre's defence, this is gripping stuff.
The story centres around Peter Lorre as the disturbed and disturbing killer. I was more familiar with his later, more comedic roles in America, and was totally blown away by this incredible performance. His performance is perfectly nuanced, playing the frightened man to a tee.
The story is shown in a series of set pieces. The film starts with images of a child playing in a street, and her mother waiting for her to come home. The child never arrives, and the scenes of Mother waiting in her flat with dinner on the table, and eventually receiving the news are emotionally charged. There is hysteria in Berlin, and a police search for the killer. The police procedures are shown in amazing forensic detail, and are totally gripping. The action shifts to the criminal underworld, who are being hurt by the police intrusion into their activities during their hunt for the killer. They decide to take their own action, tracking down the killer in a series of totally gripping scenes, then comes the films masterstroke - the criminals put Lorre on trial and he is forced to defend himself in front of the `court'. His defence is brilliant, his explanation for his crimes utterly disturbing - we are left feeling that we have been given insight into the mind of a real murderer. Then, finally, Lorre ends up on trial in front of a real court, and we are left devastated at the end with the Mother's reaction to the sentence handed down.
I've never been so gripped or disturbed by a film. Supposedly based on the atrocities of Peter Kurten, the so called `Vampire of Dusseldorf' this is a fascinating study of the criminal mind. Lang did his research well, and has some genuine insights to offer here.
This is yet another superb presentation from Eureka. The film has been nicely restored, with several sections of previously missing film reconstituted. The film is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, and the picture is as clean and sharp as possible. There is a mono soundtrack in German, with English subtitles. There is a second disk with a series of nice documentaries about the making of and restoration of the film. A ten out of ten presentation for an eleven out of ten film.
Definitely recommended to fans of psychological thrillers and classic cinema.