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Joseph Losey: Pictures of Provocation

Saturday, March 6, 2010
6:30 p.m. M
Joseph Losey (U.S., 1951)

Archival Print


Smothered with suspicion, a shadowy Los Angeles becomes the id-like setting for Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s Weimar classic. Here stalks the monstrous M (David Wayne), whose warped logic has him murdering children to save them from an evil society. When the intense police pursuit, led by Inspector Carney (Howard da Silva), disrupts the criminal underworld, the local crime syndicate joins the hunt. Finally captured, M is taken to a subterranean garage and thrown before a kangaroo court where a soused ex-lawyer (Luther Adler) pleads his case. In this harrowing scenario, Losey presciently parallels what would soon be his own plight facing the scrutiny of HUAC. More poignant, though, is the way in which M uses the “baby killer” as a medium to unleash the pathology of the mob. The crescendos of vigilantism join all members of society, high and low, into one vengeful mass. Bleak black-and-white lensing by Ernest Lazlo (Kiss Me Deadly, D.O.A.) beckons a muted milieu where it’s too dark to distinguish bad from good.

—Steve Seid

• Written by Norman Reilly Raine, Leo Katcher, Waldo Salt (uncredited), based on the 1931 screenplay by Thea von Harbou. Photographed by Ernest Laszlo. With David Wayne, Howard da Silva, Martin Gaabel, Karen Morley. (88 mins, B&W, 35mm, From British Film Institute, permission Nero Film Classics)

Preceded by short:
Youth Gets a Break (Joseph Losey, U.S., 1941). The National Youth Association commissioned Losey to direct a documentary focused on their efforts to provide workplace training for young people in order to abate poverty. The neophyte filmmaker found himself working with stellar talent: veteran artist/activists Willard Van Dyke and Ralph Steiner. (20 mins, B&W, 16mm, From NARA)

• (Total running time: 108 mins)