M & "M": The Film by Fritz Lang & the Play by Ryan Landry

Familiarize yourself with the story of Fritz Lang's M, which served as the inspiration and jumping off for Ryan Landry's "M" at the Huntington.

In an unnamed German city at the onset of the Great Depression, residents live in fear of a killer who has murdered at least eight children. As she walks home from school, young Elsie Beckmann is waylaid by an eerie stranger. While Elsie’s mother frantically awaits her return, the mysterious man buys the girl a balloon from a blind street peddler while whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

Elsie is found dead shortly thereafter, and the killer writes a letter to the newspapers with a promise of further deaths. With the radio warning that “Your neighbor could be the murderer,” panic grips the city and suspicions run rampant. Citizens are searched at the slightest pretext and attacked for speaking to children in the street.

Amidst the chaos, the police under Inspector Lohmann analyze the killer’s handwriting, interrogate witnesses, and raid the seedy taverns where lowlifes gather, but find only a series of dead ends. However, faced with the crackdown, master bank robber Der Schränker convenes the common criminals of the city. Together, they resolve to launch a parallel search for the murderer, since once he is brought to justice they can continue their activities without fear of police scrutiny. In order to keep a close watch over every street, the criminals enlist the help of the beggars’ union.

Meanwhile, the police investigations lead them to the residence of Hans Beckert, a loner whose apartment offers clues linking him to the killer’s letter. Beckert himself, tortured by his compulsion to attack children, drinks heavily before selecting a new victim. Together, he and the young girl walk by the same peddler who sold him a balloon for Elsie Beckmann. Recognizing the killer’s whistling, the peddler sends a young beggar to trail him. The beggar cleverly chalks the letter “M” onto Beckert’s shoulder and alerts the criminals, who spring into action and corner the marked man – who has abandoned his potential victim – in an empty office block.

After a frantic search, racing against time and the police, the criminals find Beckert and drag him to face a makeshift tribunal led by Der Schränker. Beckert pleads that his actions are beyond his control, but the mob screams for his death before they are interrupted by the arrival of the police. Watching the unseen outcome of the official trial, Elsie Beckmann’s mother warns, “We must keep a closer watch on our children.”

— Synopsis by Sam Lasman, Literary Professional Intern.

Watch the complete film for free on YouTube:

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