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Depression-era Germany: A killer of children roams the streets of
Berlin, but seemingly, he leaves no clues that could lead to him, so the
town is left in terror, and soon enough everybody is suspecting everybody
else.The police, led by Kommissar Lohman (Otto Wernicke) tries to follow
up the few leads it has, but to no avail, and soon enough all they can
think out is raiding the known gangster hang-outs daily, which makes it
hard for the common criminals to do their regular work.
So the bosses of organized crime meet, and under the guidance of
Schränker (Gustaf Gründgens) they decide to hunt down the killer
themselves, with the help of the organisation of beggars, since beggars
are the only ones who can go everywhere unnoticed.
And while the police has finally found the vital clue that leads them
to the killer, Beckert (Peter Lorre), a blind beggar (Georg John) has
already identified Beckert by his whistling, and beggars and gangsters
hunt him down to an office building, where Beckert has himself locked in.
So that night, all of Berlin's gangsterdom breaks into the building, turns
the house upside down (but leabves the bank that is in the building
untouched) and finally finds and captures Beckert. They only make one
mistake when they leave one of them behind ...
Beckert is dragged to an abandoned warehouse, where the gangsters,
again under Schränker's guidance, try him. Beckert even gets his own
defender (Rudolf Blümner), but neither Beckert's confession that he can't
help himself not to murder children, nor the pleas of his defender for his
life seem top be enough to keep the gangsters from lynching him ... only
the police that arrives at the scene just in time seems to save Beckert -
and put him in front of a proper judge ...
Loosely based on real life serialkiller Peter Kürten, the film is in
part gangster film and in part serial killer film that even leaves room
open for social comment and a plea against the death penalty as such in
the end - and it is Fritzh Lang's best movie, bar none. Inventive use of
camera angles, camera movement and sound, and the incredibly creepy acting
of Peter Lorre (his first film) turn the rather simple story into a
cinematic masterpiece, that to this day holds more suspense, and beneath
its simplistic surfacde is more intelligent than most serialkiller movies
to follow. A must-see.