The face of fear

The face of fear

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Title: Peter Lorre in the movie "M le maudit".

Creation date : 1931

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais © Archives Serkis © All rights reserved

Picture reference: 07-512601

Peter Lorre in the movie "M le maudit".

© BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais Archives Serkis All rights reserved

Publication date: February 2008

Historical context

The news item as a source of inspiration

In 1931, the famous German filmmaker (of Austrian origin) Fritz Lang directed M the Cursed, his first talking film. Produced by Nero-Film, this project, more modest than his great works of the previous decade, Doctor Mabuse and Metropolis, was inspired by the case of a serial killer, the "Düsseldorf Vampire" aka Peter Kürten, who hit the headlines a year earlier after murdering several children, and for whom Thea von Harbou wrote a screenplay. The role of the killer is given to the Hungarian-born actor Peter Lorre, who made his name some time before on the Berlin stages, playing texts by Franz Wedekind and Bertold Brecht.

Image Analysis

Peter Lorre

Actor Peter Lorre plays a murderer of little girls who is wanted jointly by the police and the city's underworld. He is seen here looking terrified for fear of being arrested and lynched. The view is taken from the sequence where, pursued at night by thugs who want to neutralize him because he threatens their business, Beckert tries to escape his pursuers by hiding in the basement of an abandoned building. Hunted like an animal, his body curled up, looking terrified, he manages to take refuge behind the metal door of a cellar that looks a lot like a prison. Peter Lorre forcefully translates the panic and dread he feels upon hearing the bandits approaching to capture him.


Hunted like a beast

The photo (which may be a still from the film) captures Peter Lorre’s extraordinary acting perfectly. His interpretation of the role of Hans Beckert, alias “M”, is exceptional. First a shadow, then a silhouette, the actor plays with the astonishing capacity of expression of his face with thick features, bulging, bulging eyes, and manages to give his character a disconcerting innocence. Through this complexly staged criminal story, Fritz Lang addresses the question of psychoanalysis to explain the origins of the criminal behavior of "M", and the need for justice to judge him. Indeed, despite the monstrosity of his actions, he also appears as a victim. In any case, Lang clearly shows that it is not the methods used by the leader of the underworld union, who seeks to restore order to his advantage, and whose action seems as much if not more dangerous for society, which can assess the degree of responsibility of the child murderer and decide his fate.

  • Germany
  • cinema
  • Lang (Fritz)
  • actor


Lotte EISNERFritz LangParis, Cahiers du cinéma, 1984.Tom GUNNINGThe Films of Fritz LangLondon, Britsh Film Institut, 2001.Siegfried KRACAUERFrom Caligari to Hitler.A History of German Cinema 1919-1933Paris, Flammarion, 1987.Marie MICHELM le Maudit by Fritz LangParis, Nathan, 1989.

To cite this article

Laurent VÉRAY, "The face of fear"


Video: The face of fear 1990