German film maker Fritz Lang followed up his masterpiece “M” with the resurrection of one of his previous characters - Dr. Mabuse. He originally appeared in Lang's silent four and a half hour crime epic “Dr. Mabuse - The Great Gambler”.
Mabuse is a criminal mastermind, clearly modelled after Conan-Doyle's Professor Moriarty, a genius who uses his mind to create and control a huge empire of crime. He always seems to be one step ahead of the police, often using his skill as a hypnotist to cover up (and cause) the dirty deeds his organisation might be behind.
The last time we see Mabuse in the previous film, he is finally captured by the Police, but appears to have gone quite insane.
“The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse” (which can be viewed without watching the previous film, although, to be fair, it does add significant resonance to the story if you have seen “The Gambler”) begins with a contradiction: Mabuse is clearly locked away in an asylum, refusing, or perhaps unable to speak, writing ream upon ream of meaningless gibberish. However, his crime empire is flourishing, apparently under his full, brutal control. Mabuse seems hell bent on tainting the whole of German society with his plague of fear ... Can Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke, reprising his role in “M”) find out what is going on before time runs out - and more importantly, can he stop it?
In 1933 Germany, visionary director Fritz Lang foresaw a terrorist who he could mirror in his new Mabuse film: Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich had just come into power. Mabuse and his gang are clearly intended to be reflections of the Nazi party. The Third Reich agreed, banning the film before is was ever shown. Directly because of this, Lang left Germany, first for France then finally for Hollywood.
It's a strange experience watching this old film today. Technically, the film really works as a brilliant film noir - full of great, exciting set pieces and mysterious characters. The camerawork is very stylish, and the (miss) direction entertaining. It works well as an detective story. For every master criminal you need a super detective, and Inspector Lohmann is a fascinating creation - though hardly a dynamic policeman, never-the-less he misses nothing. The supernatural/psychological aspects of the story are also interesting, and provide many of the films creepiest moments.
The greatest thing I can say about this film is just how visionary it was. Even today, the concept of the invisible terrorists who could strike anywhere, anytime is, if anything, even more potent today - 70 odd years after this film was made. Perhaps Metropolis wasn't Lang's most visionary film after all.
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