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#088 Fritz Lang: M vs. The Return of Frank James



Download MP3 In today's episode Nate and Austin compare Fritz Lang's best and worst rated films, M (1931) and The Return of Frank James (1940), respectively. Nate doesn't have much to say about Frank James, Austin really appreciates child murders, and they both fawn over their boy Rogey D. Check back next Sunday at 7pm PST where we will compare Robert Rodriguez's Sin City (2005) and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D (1940), his best and worst rated films.
Also check out this interview with director Fritz Lang about his life and career: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYk0qzqqjmQ

The Return of Frank James Notes

Worst Rated

PLOT: Frank James continues to avoid arrest in order to take revenge on the Ford brothers for their murder of his brother Jesse.
  • Ratings: IMDb 6.7 | RT 83% C / 48% A
  • Released: 1940
  • Director: Fritz Lang
  • Writer(s): Sam Hellman (original screenplay)
  • Cinematographer: George Barnes (Rebecca, Spellbound, The War of the Worlds)
  • Notable actors: Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney, Jackie Cooper, Henry Hull, John Carradine, J. Edward Bromberg, Donald Meek
  • Budget: N/A
  • Box office: N/A
  • Fun Facts:
    • The original treatment had Frank romantically interested in the reporter played by Gene Tierney, but the studio became fearful of a possible lawsuit by Frank's widow and/or son, so it was eliminated from the script.
    • The studio bought the rights to the James Brothers but changed the facts for entertainment. Although Frank surrendered 6 months after Jesse James' murder, both Ford brothers were already dead and Frank had nothing to do with their deaths.
    • Film debut of Gene Tierney.
    • Jackie Cooper and Matthew "Stymie" Beard shared the same screen for the first time since their last appearances together in Bargain Day (1931) (as Hal Roach's Rascals).

M Notes

Best Rated

PLOT: When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.
  • Ratings: IMDb 8.4 | RT 100% C / 95% A
  • Released: 1931
  • Director: Fritz Lang
  • Writer(s): Theo von Harbou and Fritz Lang (script), Egon Jacobson (article)
  • Cinematographer: Friz Arno Wagner (Nosferatu, Spies, Destiny)
  • Notable actors: Pete Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Otto Wernicke, Theodor Loos, Gustaf Grundgens, Friedrich Gnab, Fritz Odemar, Pual Kemp, Theo Lingen, Rudolf Blumner, Georg John
  • Budget: N/A
  • Box office: N/A
  • Fun Facts:
    • Fritz Lang's cruelty to the actors was legendary. Peter Lorre was thrown down the stairs into the cellar over a dozen times. When Lang wanted to hire Lorre for Human Desire (1954) over two decades later, the actor refused.
    • Fritz Lang asserted that he cast real criminals for the court scene in the end. According to biographer Paul Jensen, 24 cast members were arrested during filming.
    • Contrary to popular belief, Fritz Lang did not change the title from "The Murderers are Among Us" to "M" due to fear of persecution by the Nazis. He changed the title during filming, influenced by the scene where one of the criminals writes the letter on his hand. Lang thought "M" was a more interesting title.
    • Director Fritz Lang said this is his favorite of all of his films.
    • Although he was thrilled to play such a major part, Peter Lorre came to hate it later as people tended to associate him with being a child murderer in real life.
    • In Germany, the Nazis banned the movie in July 1934.
    • The film is supposedly based on the real-life case of serial killer Peter Kürten, called "The Vampire of Düsseldorf", whose crimes in the 1920s horrified Germany. However, director Fritz Lang has expressly denied that he drew any inspiration from the case. Nevertheless, he and his wife Thea von Harbou researched the crimes carefully, consulting with German police, visiting murder scenes, interviewing sex offenders in prison and even talking to detectives in Scotland Yard in London. According to Lang biographer Paul Jensen, the director spent eight days doing field research in a mental institution.
    • The organization of beggars mentioned in the film actually did exist in Berlin at the time.
    • Two-thirds of the film was shot with sound, the remaining third was shot silent. At the time the license fees for sound equipment were quite prohibitive, so this was a move to try to keep costs down. However, Fritz Lang liked the eerie, unnerving quality that arose from going from a sound world to one where there is no noise at all.
    • MGM studio executive Irving Thalberg assembled his writers and directors for a private screening of this film, telling them that they needed to be making films of this power and caliber. He also admitted that if anyone had brought a story of a child killer to him, he would have rejected it.
    • The use of voiceover narration was a groundbreaking new technique at the time.
    • Before making this, Peter Lorre had mainly been a comedic actor.

Intro music by Eric Lynch

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