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Dr. Mabuse and his organization of criminals are in the process of completing their latest scheme, a theft of information that will allow Mabuse to make huge profits on the stock exchange. Afterwards, Mabuse disguises himself and attends the Folies Bergères show, where Cara Carozza, the main attraction of the show, passes him information on Mabuse's next intended victim, the young millionaire Edgar Hull. Mabuse then uses psychic manipulation to lure Hull into a card game where he loses heavily. When Police Commissioner von Wenk begins an investigation of this mysterious crime spree, he has little to go on, and he needs to find someone who can help him. Written by
Fritz Lang's epic story of "Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler" is always interesting, and at times fascinating. Lang obviously enjoyed filming this kind of material, and he adds numerous imaginative touches to it. Lang's distinctive approach and Rudolf Klein-Rogge's portrayal of Mabuse give it some lasting images to go with the involved story.
Movies about master criminals are hardly rare, and even the more popular movies of the genre are often shallow and over-praised. In some respects, the story of Dr. Mabuse is similar to most: he has an extensive bag of tricks that he uses to pull off his schemes, and the movie often holds your attention simply by making you guess what he is planning to do next. But there is more psychological depth to the Mabuse story than there is in most such movies, and this is complemented by the distinctive array of settings and the overall portrayal of society, which at times suggest themes that go well beyond the personal battle between Mabuse and the law.
While quite entertaining, this is not really a truly great movie, because on the whole it just does not have that much to say. It is all too easy for film-makers to depict a decadent, morally-neutral society in a way that seems more profound than it really is. Lang is markedly superior to most of the present-day film-makers who try to create Mabuse-style characters and stories, which is why this has enough substance to have held up pretty well over the years.
As entertainment, "Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler" compares well with almost anything of its kind, and it is as good as any of Lang's own films. As a work of art, though, even in Lang's own filmography it has to take a back seat - though perhaps not by a lot - to "Metropolis" and other more profound works.
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