This meticulously restored print of Fritz Lang's classic contains six minutes or so of hitherto lost material that adds atmosphere and nuance to this supreme thriller. Peter Lorre, an oozy little piglet, typed himself for life as a whimpering psychopath pursued by all and sundry -- not least his own demons -- through a German city of 1931. The other players are no less vivid in their roles as cops, criminals, beggars, and victims, particularly Gustav GrYndgens as a dapper underworld king and Otto Wernicke as the cigar-chomping chief inspector. Closely based on actual cases of Weimar Germany, this story of a child killer is tragically contemporary but to be honest says little about the causes and cures of Lorre's disease. Rather, it's instead what may be the best police procedural, manhunt, psychodrama, and cross-section of a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown ever made -- all in one picture. The restored coda, in particular, is devastating. M is also noteworthy as a transitional film from silent era to sound, with appropriately harsh cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner and long stretches of celluloid with no dialogue or music, suddenly broken into by the cries of police or perhaps the killer's own little tune, a whistle provided not by Lorre but by Fritz Lang himself.
M screens Friday, Sept. 5, through Wednesday, Sept. 10, at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Shows are at 7 and 9:30 nightly, with additional screenings at 1:30 and 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120.