Release Date: August 31, 1931
Over 4.5K movies seen over the course of nearly 40 years and I just now am seeing this movie. What a shame. Part of me is annoyed that I skipped it all these years, but the other part realizes I probably appreciate it more now that I have been a parent and have interest in human nature and mental illness.
I know I am not saying anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times, but what a masterpiece. This film was fabulous in absolutely every way. The technical aspects of the movie hold up remarkably well. It is definitive proof that a well shot, well-lit movie will stand against any others regardless of new and “better” camera equipment. The sound held up incredibly as well despite being a very new technology at the time.
Speaking of sound, this was only a few years after sound came out and it used sound not as a novelty, but as a clever storytelling device. For instance, when the killer is about to kidnap a child, he whistles a distinct tune. Later, we only need to hear the whistling to know what is about to happen despite never actually seeing the killer at that time. Sure, he could have just shown the killer, but the ominous tone set by having just the whistling was far better and more never wracking. The director also made skillful use of hiding violence like the scene when a guard is about to be attacked and the camera is blocked so we can’t see what actually happens. We only hear his screams. Not only is this another great use of sound, but it can be more gruesome to allow our minds to conjure the images of what happened to him.
This was one of Peter Lorre’s first roles and he nailed it. He was great throughout, but his monologue at the end was one of the best I have ever seen in film. This movie didn’t overtake 12 Angry Men or Arsenic and Old Lace, but for now I’m putting it in my top three, although I will need to see it a few more times to solidify its spot.
Rewatchability: Very High