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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
In this review I refer to the Transit Film DVD edition from the F W Murnau Foundation (or Stiftung, if you understand German!). This 2 DVD set is an excellent restoration of this(these?) movie(s). At three and a half hours, some may argue that it is a little daunting for the uninitiated silent film viewer, but in my humble opinion it is so well made (by Fritz Lang) that it still stands up today as a masterpiece of "gangster cinema". Shot between November 1921 and March 1922, the film was made only a couple of years after Lang's directorial debut (Halblutt - 1919), and five years before Metropolis - perhaps Lang's masterpiece. It can be argued that it represents the start of a 'series' of gangster/crime related movies by Lang, and parallels can be drawn to Spione (Spies) of 1927/28, and M (1931 - Lang's first talkie), and of course, The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1932/33). There was also a final addition from 1960, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, but that is obviously of a different era. It is interesting to observe that Lang/von Harbou clearly were attempting to create a screen detective character something like Sherlock Holmes in the form of Commissioner Lohmann, (superbly played by Otto Wernicke) for it is he who is the detective in both M and Testament. However, I digress. Where both M and Testament concern themselves with the work of the police in an almost documentary fashion (especially M), Der Spieler is almost exclusively concerned with the working of the criminal mind. Mabuse is played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge, one of Lang's favourites - though one wonders what Klein-Rogge made of Lang - Thea von Harbou, the screen-writer, married Lang in 1921, after divorcing Klein-Rogge! He gives a masterful performance as Mabuse, and dominates the film. Even when not on the screen, his omnipotence pervades the entire proceedings. Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to describe the picture as 'gripping', it still has the power to hold the attention for most of its mighty three and a half hours. For me, at least, this is aided in no small measure by the magnificent new soundtrack by Aljocha Zimmermann, whose use of leitmotif (in true Teutonic style) adds immeasurably to the overall enjoyment of the film. I strongly recommend this picture, not only to serious students of German Silent Cinema (they'll have seen it anyway!) but to anybody who enjoys a good gangster/crime story. If you have a hang-up about silent movies, then in all honesty this isn't going to change your mind - but give it a try. I think its worth the effort in the end. Trivia: Although made in Berlin, and the numerous vehicles all drive on the right as one would expect, they are without exception, all right hand drive!
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