Dr Mabuse, the Gambler was a two-part silent movie
made by Fritz Lang in 1922. Mabuse was a crime lord who caused
a wave of terror, death and destruction through his hypnotic
prowess and evil genius, before eventually falling into madness
after seeing the ghosts of his murder victims and being incarcerated
in an insane asylum. In this talkie sequel made ten years
later Dr Mabuse has made no outward progress in the asylum,
simply staring into space. Now his hand begins to jerk violently
in writing motions, and given a pen and paper he proceeds
to scribble nonsense. However his penmanship becomes gradually
more coherent until it's realised that Mabuse's 30 pages a
day are intelligent instructions on how to run a successful
reign of crime through fear and confusion. When the described
crimes begin to be carried out for real, Inspector Lohmann
(last seen on the trail of Peter Lorre's child murderer in
Lang's M) takes up the case...
Originally premiered in 1933 in Budapest, The Testament
of Dr Mabuse had been banned in Germany and wasn't shown
again until 1951 in a shortened version. It was around this
time that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor and Goebbels Minister
for Enlightenment and Propaganda (!). It was said that Hitler
was a great fan of Fritz Lang's work. Ironically, not only
was Lang Austrian, but he was also Jewish. Goebbels apparently
approached Lang, telling him he was aware of the man's "shortcomings"
but thought him such an accomplished film maker that he wanted
Lang to head the new Film Institute. Lang foresaw the inevitable
and fled the country. Afterward, the film was banned by the
Nazis because it "posed a threat to law and order and public
safety", and the original film was seized.
film is considerably more enjoyable than you might think.
The ghosts which appear to Mabuse are very well done
considering the year, and there is good use of lighting, particularly
in the finale car chase where the approaching trees and the
roadway ahead appear somewhat sinister. For a 105 minute film
there is constant movement and progression, with a lot going
on. There is the police mystery of who is running Mabuse's
crime organisation, although the viewer already knows; sympathy
for the character Kent who has unwittingly become embroiled
in the events of the spree, dragging in his innocent girlfriend;
there are arson attacks, robberies, shootings, and the clever
idea of flooding a locked room to subdue the force of a bomb
about to explode.
M, The Testament of Dr Mabuse has been lovingly
restored, the picture and sound digitally remastered. The
documentary included as an extra is interesting, but the subtitles
are often difficult to keep up with, especially when there
is a crowd scene or characters are arguing, their speech accelerated.
This film will appeal to collectors of old masters, but I
wonder how much casual interest it will garner.
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