The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) movie poster

director Fritz Lang
viewed: 09/20/2014

I’ve had this film in my queue for God know how long.  So much of Fritz Lang’s body of work has lingered in my consciousness since childhood, even, though largely around his most famed Expressionist works Metropolis (1928) and M (1931).  The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was often cited around these films, which makes sense, it was certainly of this period and has real ties to the film M it seems.  Even more directly still, the film is a sequel to Lang’s silent film of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and is even followed by The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse by Lang in 1960.

The Mabuse character was apparently taken from some popular literature at the time.  Stories of master criminals who reigned supreme in the underground of the city.  In this case, Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is locked up in a madhouse but incessently writes out his plans for anarchy and mass crime, which someone, it seems, is taking to the streets and playing out as if at his command.

It’s easy to see how well-situated Lang was for the American crime films.  Mabuse is full of action and drama, including a couple trapped in a room rapidly filling up with water.  And even though you have Otto Wernicke playing the same Inspector Lohmann character from M, the steadfast lawman is up against an evil genius from beyond the grave, a super villain almost more in need of a superhero to fight against.  Really, he’s quite the Lex Luthor prototype.

And that is one of the interesting things about the film.  The madness and genius of evil, whose goal is not greed by chaos, whose pervasive tentacles reach all around, controlling everything.  It’s an interesting contrast to M in which the criminals are citizens as much as the people who do not inhabit the underworld.  And even though the plot is overthrown in the end, the lingering thought is the strength and wiliness of the uber-criminal.  Of course he will rise again!

So, now I’ll be going both backward and forward with Lang and Mabuse.  I’ve had many others of Lang’s silent films queued up, waiting to see them.  So much to see.  So very very much.

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