Cast & Crew
Howard Da Silva
In a large city, a series of violent murders of young girls terrorizes citizens and baffles police. A nervous young man, Martin Harrow, stalks several children and soon focuses his attention on a little girl playing alone at a neighborhood carnival. Martin buys a balloon from a blind street vendor, then walks away with the child, whistling a peculiar tune. Later, after the child's body is discovered, police chief Regan makes a television announcement disclosing that evidence collected in the case indicates the same modus operandi found in previous killings, death by strangulation and the shoes of the victim taken. After the police warn the public to take extreme caution and report all suspicious behavior, many people overreact and harass several innocent men. At police headquarters, the mayor demands an arrest from Regan and the head of homicide, Carney, both of whom are stymied by lack of evidence. In frustration, Carney orders raids across the city, hoping to uncover a lead. At one bar, washed out attorney Daniel Langley evades serious questioning by the police and reports to his current employer, underworld boss Charlie Marshall. Equally frustrated that the endless raids are disrupting his illegal activities, Marshall and his cohorts begin their own citywide search for the culprit, whom they dub "M" for murderer. At police headquarters, a psychologist runs a profile on the killer, suggesting that he is possibly a paranoid schizophrenic with some childhood trauma. As the police detectives begin investigating single men with a history of mental illness, they come upon Martin's boardinghouse and, claiming to be from the Health Department, search his room in his absence. They find nothing out of the ordinary except a lamp with a shoelace tied to the switch. Upon reporting to Carney, the detectives mention the shoelace and abruptly decide to return to the boardinghouse. Examining Martin's closet they find no shoes missing a lace, but after further investigation discover a false panel in the floor, beneath which are a collection of little girls's shoes. Meanwhile, at the carnival, Martin lures another little girl with a balloon. When he departs playing a small pipe, the vendor recalls the unusual tune and summons help. A young man, part of Marshall's extensive street network, follows Martin and finds the opportunity to mark the letter "M" on his coat with coal as a signal to others on the streets. Word of Martin's identity spreads through the streets quickly, and several men follow him as he leads the little girl through the city. With the discovery of the shoes, Carney and the police also begin an intense search for Martin. Realizing he is being trailed, Martin takes the little girl into the Bradbury building, where he evades his hunters by hiding on the top floor. When the building security guard inadvertently locks Martin and the girl in a room, he panics and struggles frantically to break out. Marshall is informed that "M" has been cornered and orders several of his gang to the building, where they torture the guard to find out Martin's location. Marshall arrives and the search continues, eventually setting off the security alarm. When Martin's frantic pounding is heard, Marshall's men break into the room, release the child and carry Martin away as the police arrive below. Two of Marshall's men are captured, and they reveal Marshall's hideout, where a crowd soon gathers for a mock trial of Martin. The balloon vendor is brought in as a witness, and when Marshall tells the crowd Martin should be turned over to the police, they adamantly refuse, wanting to punish him themselves. Marshall encourages a drunken Langley to defend Martin, who eventually testifies for himself. Martin claims that his mother taught him that men were born evil and cruel and he believed he was saving children from them. He pleads to be punished for his actions, but when Langley accuses Marshall and his gang of their own criminality, Marshall shoots him. As the crowd descends upon Martin, the police arrive, arrest Marshall and take Martin, still pleading to be punished.
Howard Da Silva
Norman Reilly Raine
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, United Artists was initially listed as the distribution company for the film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Muriel Maddox, Marjorie Nelson, Sammy Pierce and John Merrick were added to the cast, but their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. J. Roy Hunt was originally set as the film's director of photography, but left the production for another assignment. According to Daily Variety, the state of Ohio rejected the film, banning all theatrical screenings; Superior Films appealed the ruling all the way to U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome of the case has not been determined, but information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicate that Ohio approved the film without cuts in 1954. This film and Twentieth Century-Fox's Fourteen Hours were actor Howard Da Silva's last films before being blacklisted. Da Silva worked on the stage from 1953 on, but he did not return to motion pictures until 1963. Although not mentioned in the onscreen credits, this film is a remake of a 1931 German picture also entitled M. Seymour Nebenzal, who produced the 1951 version, also produced the early "talkie," which was written by Thea von Harbou, directed by Fritz Lang and starred Peter Lorre.