The Most Haunting Eyes in Cinema: La Strada vs. M

Federico Fellini's film La Strada (1954) is strangely affecting. It's a fairly simple story of a young woman, Gelsomina, who has some sort of mental limitations. She is bought by a traveling performer, The Great Zampano, and faces an abusive relationship as his assistant. Her relationship with another performer, The Fool, is more good-hearted, although it doesn't give balm for her situation.

I know this film is considered a great one, but I'm still processing it. It's the kind of film Ed from Northern Exposure would idealize. It feels like cinema, but I can't put my finger on what it is about it that stays with you.

One thing I know for sure is Giulietta Masina's eyes are haunting. They're full of innocence, wonder, and eventually hurt. The film would be nothing without these eyes. Gelsomina's character is played out almost entirely through the eyes, but when she does speak, the eyes sell it even more.

Another pair of haunting eyes comes from M (1931). It's the story of a town afraid of a pedophile murderer. Fairly early on we're introduced to the murderer while a voice-over conversation talks about who he could be:

If that's not enough to freak you out, just wait. The rest of the film shows as both cops and criminals are trying to track him down. Some great chase sequences ensue, but again, it's all in the eyes.

Peter Lorre owns this movie through his eyes. They express guilt, fear, and ultimately pleading. I've never seen eyes go this wide (until I saw La Strada). This is the one thing that will stick with me from this film. He's one of the creepiest killers ever in a film, and we don't even see him do anything brutal.

It's all in the eyes.




  1. I haven't seen "M", but I have to say my first experience with Mr. Lorre definitely was enough to get the heeby jeebies just by seeing his picture.

    Mad Love (1935) is the story of an exceptional surgeon, who saves the lives of hundreds of people until he develops a terrifying obsession with a Grand Guignol actress.

    The scariest parts of the movie are just where he's creepily watching her. Oh and, his super disturbing voice... yikes!

    This film is considered one of the earliest "mad scientist" horror films. Anytime you see a short, bald man in huge glasses and a lab coat laughing sinisterly--it's paying homage to Peter Lorre.

  2. I just looked at the cover for Mad Love and I'm traumatized. His eyes!!

  3. Lorre was brilliant and his eyes could do almost anything. Just watch how they become terrified and almost pitiable in "Casablanca" for example.
    As for Giulietta, I just love "La Strada" and I think what you say sticks with you is something different for each person.
    For you it's been the eyes, for me, ever since the first time I saw it I can't get the score out of my head. Whenever I'm at the beach I instantly begin to hum the music from the last scene and I usually find myself signing the "Gelsomina" song The Fool did.
    You should check out "The Nights of Cabiria" next.