M (1931)
1931, Janus Films, 99 min, Germany, Dir: Fritz Lang

Peter Lorre is unforgettable as serial killer Hans Beckert, preying on children and whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” as he works. When the ensuing police crackdown proves bad for criminal business, all of Berlin’s underworld begins a manhunt for Beckert. This engrossing crime thriller was Fritz Lang’s first sound film, as well as the director’s personal favorite. In German with English subtitles.


SECRET AGENT
1936, BFI, 86 min, UK, Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

Based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham, this espionage tale stars John Gielgud as Richard Ashenden, a British officer dispatched to Switzerland to kill a German spy. Sent to assist him on the mission are seasoned assassin (and scene-stealer) Peter Lorre and Madeleine Carroll, who is posing as Ashenden’s wife – which does little to stop suave Robert Young from chasing her. With several years of sound filmmaking under his belt, Hitchcock makes brilliant use of such audio effects as a sustained organ note and a dog’s howl.


THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)
1934, Park Circus, 75 min, UK, Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s first version of the thriller about a family of tourists drawn into international intrigue was one of the greatest successes of his pre-Hollywood career. Vacationing British couple Leslie Banks and Edna Best stumble onto an assassination plot; to ensure their cooperation, head killer Peter Lorre kidnaps their daughter. With a more charismatic villain and a climactic shootout (inspired by a real-life incident), this economical thriller is more sinister than Hitchcock’s 1956 remake.


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