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|Index||35 reviews in total|
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!
1922 Germany was in political turmoil and spiralling into a
hyperinflation crisis. Meanwhile in cinema the German Expressionist
movement was coming of age with the release of FW Murnau's Nosferatu
and this, the first in Fritz Lang's series of epics Dr Mabuse, der
Spieler. While perhaps not as classically expressionist as Murnau or
Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang arguably put his finger on the mood of times
better than any other. With Mabuse, his unique style develops to convey
a picture of the chaos of the era.
The opening sequences of Dr Mabuse are evidence of screenwriter Thea von Harbou's growing strength as a storyteller and Lang's economy of expression. The first shot a close-up of Mabuse's hand, holding cards showing his various disguises presents and defines the title character. A frantic, rapidly cut action scene then hooks the viewer, whilst introducing us to Mabuse's network of minions. After that, we see Mabuse's elaborate scam at the stock market. In one particularly striking image, the crowd of traders panic and jostle, whilst Mabuse stands calmly on a pedestal above them a perfect metaphor for his position of power amidst social chaos.
At one point in his youth Lang trained as an architect, and this fact is central to his style as a director. There are hints of this in his earliest films, but in Mabuse the architectural touch is fully matured. Throughout, the set design and décor is almost more important than the actors. Whereas other expressionists would evoke mood most frequently through use of light and shadow, Lang does it primarily through use of space. He composes shots in straight lines and geometric patterns, occasionally seeming to form eyes or faces. Often characters are dwarfed by the sheer cavernous size of the rooms they are in. Also look at how many scenes take place on a stage or lecture hall, and how Lang contrasts opposing shots of speaker (or performer) and audience a metaphor for master and masses. He even has Mabuse sitting at his desk facing the camera, as if to make the real-life viewers his audience a touch Lang used a fair bit throughout his work.
A frequent complaint about Dr Mabuse is its gargantuan length and I have to admit it does drag in places. Lang's following silent features, although also very long were extremely tight in structure and worked like a classical symphony in the way different parts complemented each other. Dr Mabuse is not quite up to that standard yet. While some of the individual acts are well-balanced little dramas in themselves, as a whole it is a little uneven. Mabuse also suffers from wordy title cards and a lack of convincing action sequences again, problems that Lang would have solved by the time of Metropolis. It's worth remembering though that on its original release parts one and two were shown on consecutive nights, and it's much easier to digest this way. I wouldn't recommend any first-time viewer try to tackle the whole thing in one sitting.
Holding the whole thing together is a mesmerising performance from Rudolph Klein-Rogge in the title role. While acting in Hollywood was becoming increasingly naturalistic at this time, Germany was a little way behind and performances still tended to be a bit too theatrical and exaggerated. Lang however softens the impact of melodramatic acting by never letting the characters get too realistic in the first place. Cinema was like a comic-book for Lang, in his urban thrillers as much as in his exotic adventures, and this approach saves Dr Mabuse from becoming too strained and ridiculous.
Although it's not as polished as any of his later silents, Dr Mabuse was perhaps Lang's most influential film. The idea of revealing the identity and methods of the villain to the audience was no doubt a forerunner of Hitchcock's mode of building suspense. A young Sergei Eisenstein was given the task of cutting a shortened version of Mabuse for the Russian public, and the way Lang imbues each shot with meaning may have contributed to the concept of intellectual montage. This is not to mention the impact of the Mabuse character on generations of cinematic villains to come. Dr Mabuse, der Spieler is a far from perfect film, and can be tough to watch although it's not as dull as some would claim, and it's certainly a key film in several strands of cinematic development.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD
What separates film noir from the standard crime or gangster film? Psychology. Where the common criminal is simply interested in money, the film noir villain has a profound understanding of human nature and enjoys playing with the lives of others as much for pleasure as for gain.
The year is 1922. The place is post WW I Germany. It was a time of inflation so great and so accelerated that a loaf of bread costing a mere 20 thousand marks in the morning could be priced at 5 million marks by evening. Restaurant prices skyrocketed while diners were eating. Businesses paid their workers twice a day so their money would have some buying power. By November of 1923, it took 4.2 trillion German marks to buy a single American dollar. Moral chaos ensued.
To set the amoral mood of DR. MABUSE, people are shown climbing the ladder of success by exploiting the vices of others. But no value judgments are made. We see only that vice is profitable, not that it is wrong or right. The economic instability of the period gives rise to extraordinary moral decadence: a dancer performs a stage show with blatant sexual imagery; drug addicts are everyday characters, and prostitute children are openly soliciting in the streets. It's indicative of this film's milieu that even the good characters are allowed to enjoy Schadenfreude-----------pleasure at the misfortunes of others. The Countess Tolst, for instance, enjoys watching the faces of gamblers when they lose at cards------suggesting that even angels can become devils when they live in the hell of social chaos.
The German people of 1922 needed a savior to believe in. But he didn't have to have wings and a halo. He could be a criminal mastermind. Dr. Mabuse is such a man. He has no compassion, no mercy, no friends------------no equals-------only servants. He's professor Moriarty and the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu rolled into one. He isn't simply a mastermind who sits in a sterile room directing his criminal activities; he's also a master of disguise who enjoys becoming a different person to commit his crimes. His cohorts are so dedicated to him that they willingly sacrifice their lives--------some by suicide----------so that he can continue his great work. He is convinced of his mental and psychic gifts and lesser humans are only toys for the various games he plays. But like a child, he's unaware that any harm can come to him and is unprepared for police commissioner Von Wenk to be as ruthless and as merciless as he is.
The film is filled with noir moments: One of the crisises of the film comes during the card game between Mabuse and Commissioner Von Wenk, when both men are heavily disguised. Mabuse tries to psychically overpower Wenk's mind and in a highly cinematic noir moment, the room totally darkens, obscuring everyone but them to emphasize the contest of wills. Another highly symbolic noir moment comes when Count Tolst-------who is socially disgraced because Mabuse hypnotized him into cheating at cards------------walks from the shadows, a defeated man, toward Mabuse, standing in a bright beam of light, symbolic of the German people's yearning for a savior. Still another is when Countess Tolst pretends to be arrested and is thrown into the same prison cell as Cara Carrozza, to get information on the man Von Wenk calls "The Great Unknown." Cara tells her of Mabuse's greatness and of her love for him, causing the Countess to admire her for protecting the man she loves. The noir moment comes when Cara sits alone in her cell---------wondering if Mabuse has betrayed her-----------the shadow of the prison bars shine on her face and we realize she is not only in a physical prison, but an emotional prison of Mabuse's making.
It's not difficult to see DR. MABUSE as the first film noir, and one of the finest films of the German silent period. Definitely a film of its time, it could have predicted the rise of Adolph Hitler had anyone been paying attention.
The message of the film is that theft and murder in pursuit of a great cause are permissible, but that cheating is dishonorable and will be punished by fate. Mabuse is a gambler who played with life. He lost because he committed a gambler's only sin. He cheated, and his punishment is to be haunted by the ghosts of his own misdeeds.
Originally, a two part film running nearly three and a half hours, but mostly seen in a highly edited version of half that length. While I haven't seen the upcoming Image DVD and can't comment on its picture and sound quality, it restores the film back to its original length and adds a music track. It's a film every student of cinema should see, especially if you enjoy film noir.
This film, like many of Fritz Lang's best efforts, mixes pulp fiction,
realism, fantasy and social comment, in this case to adapt to the
screen Jacques Norbert's serial novel about a diabolical mastermind
(Rudolf Klein-Rogge) who can destabilize the national economy by
manipulation of the stock market, operate an underground counterfeiting
ring manned by blind slaves, hypnotize card players into losing all of
their money to him and even engineer a mass hallucination. He changes
his identity for every caper via costumes, wigs, prosthetics and fake
facial hair. He has in his employ an army of henchmen from slum
denizens and cutthroats to a celebrated follies dancer whom he uses as
a lure for wealthy victims. And for what? His purpose in life is to
"play the game" and undermine his opponent's will. At one point he
states that there is no such thing as love, only lust and the will to
power (or, as some interpretations go, the will to possess what one
desires). When state prosecutor Von Wenk (the sturdy Bernhard Goetzke)
launches an investigation into this one-man crime wave his pursuit
covers the social spectrum from the dives and gutters of the underworld
to the palaces of the nobility.
The film is beautifully designed and photographed and organized into scenes and acts. Each scene is a story unto itself. This structuring helps provide a centering or equilibrium for the viewer amidst the cascade of events and characters.
Among Mabuse's victims: A bored countess (Gertrud Welcker) who frequents the illegal gambling houses to observe the reactions to wins and losses on the faces of the players so that she can vicariously experience passion. She longs for an adventure the likes of which she can never experience at home with her wimpy husband who spends his time tinkering with antique art objects. Little does she know that she is about to be plunged into the adventure of her life.
Another young beauty, this one a prominent cabaret performer (Aud Egede Nissen), has fallen under the spell of Dr. Mabuse, lives in an apartment adjacent to his hotel suite and serves as bait for unsuspecting victims like the wealthy young Edgar Hull (the not-so-young Paul Richter), who is milked of his fortune by Mabuse.
No one can defy Mabuse. He seems to be everywhere and know everything, so that if you dare betray him you are as good as dead. This terror ensures his gang's devotion. The similarities to Hitler (or any totalitarian leader with secret police tentacles reaching far and wide) are obvious and this film has been cited often as a foreshadowing of the Hitler era. Part 2 is even subtitled "a story for our time." The notion of conspiratorial forces operating behind the scenes was on the German mind when this film was made.
There are many startling parallels between MABUSE and the 1920 classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, an interesting fact considering the legend that Lang was involved in the conceptual stage of CALIGARI. Both stories feature a spooky doctor with hypnotic powers who spreads evil through the land. In both films the identity of the central evil character changes: Dr. Mabuse assumes many disguises; Dr. Caligari remains himself until he appears as a psychiatrist at the end. The sign on Mabuse's door reads "Psychoanalyse." Caligari's somnambulist predicts a man will die within hours; Mabuse hypnotizes a man into driving himself over the bank of a canal. The villains even visually resemble each other in both films: Mabuse often wears white fright wigs and high hats reminiscent of Werner Krauss's look in Caligari. MABUSE operates on a wider canvas than CALIGARI. Whereas Caligari's only instrument is his somnambulist slave, Mabuse operates an extensive network of henchmen. At the climax of both stories a word ("Caligari"/"Melior") is animatedly superimposed over the screen action to intensify the impact. The whole of CALIGARI is designed expressionistically; expressionistic sets are used minimally and subtly in Mabuse but the subject of expressionism is briefly discussed in one scene wherein Mabuse describes it as "another game" or words to that effect. The expressionism in CALIGARI is all-encompassing; in MABUSE it is under control, part of a larger design. In both films there are scenes in prison cells. In both films a beautiful young woman who has fainted is carried off and then liberated.
In the Kino edition of MABUSE there is one apparent technical glitch: a car chase near the end starts at night and suddenly flips to daylight with no sense of transition. If this was Lang's idea of "day for night" shooting, he overshot the mark hugely.
On display here is Lang's penchant for mixing exotic pulp, unadorned realism, and pure fantasy. In MABUSE it is the doctor's magical hypnotic powers that stretch and finally break credulity, woven as they are into an otherwise naturalistic crime melodrama. This mixture of the fantastical and the ordinary occurs in all of Lang's 1920's work, right through WOMAN IN THE MOON (1929). Only with M (1931) does he begin to abandon fantasy and concentrate on social issues, whereupon he steered clear of pulp and exotica until late in life when he returned to the genre in the late 1950s with his India trilogy. But by that time film audiences had long outgrown the conventions of the 1920's. And so ended Lang's career.
But the sheer scope and expert execution of this film under the conditions that prevailed in Germany in 1921-22, supervised by a man barely 30 years old, is quite an achievement and should be seen.
Dr. Mabuse is one of cinema's first super-villains and one the best
also! In addition to being a massive influence on screen villains ever
since (just about every comic book bad guy can be traced back to this),
its still an entertaining film despite its mammoth length. This film
has been split into two parts, so its probably best to watch it in two
different sittings. Its still easy to become absorbed with the break in
between, and I can imagine that watching this film for four hours may
eventually become a bit tedious. A film has to be really good to hold
my interest for more than three hours. This isn't a masterpiece on the
level of "Metropolis" or "M", but it is still a recommended viewing for
silent film buffs and film fanatics in general.
The lead performance by Rudolf Klein-Rogge is memorable, making Mabuse a despicable individual yet still sympathetic in some ways. This is probably because hes easily the most interesting character in the whole film. Some have criticized having him fall in love, but I think it adds a layer of depth to the character. In some ways, he could be considered cinema's first anti-hero.
The first half ("The Gambler") is over the top with wonderful looks at German economy before Hitler came into power. The second half "King of Crime" isn't as flamboyant, but probably better because it has a plot. Plus, the sets in both are fantastic expressionism, and part two has a neat surreal nightmare sequence. Even though it can become silly at times and the situations and performances melodramatic, this is one of the most well-paced silents I've seen. Its better to see "Metropolis" first, but if you enjoyed that, check out "Dr. Mabuse". (8/10)
Dr. Mabuse is a name familiar to almost everyone in Germany, but most
Americans would have to be told that he's a criminal mastermind,
psychiatrist, gambler and hypnotist with supernatural powers. Mabuse is
notable for his brilliant disguises and his gang of minions who
conspire against people and institutions for the sole purpose of
bringing power and wealth to himself. This evil genius is known only as
The Great Unknown to those who wish to stop him. Mabuse was created by
Norbert Jacques for a novel which has never been out of print in
Germany. The director of this film, Fritz Lang, claimed him for his
own; and now Mabuse is known not as a character in a novel but as a
character in three Fritz Lang films, the first of which is this
innovative and hugely influential silent movie.
Lang's storytelling techniques are especially innovative, but later spy films, including Lang's own, have greatly improved on what's here and leave modern viewers alert to the slow pace, murky details and confusing plot twists. What hasn't been improved upon is the artistry behind the photographic effects. I don't mean the effects themselves: modern special effects are infinitely more sophisticated. This film's effects have a great impact evenor especiallyon today's viewer who is accustomed to a rapid-fire series of elaborate, gaudy computer-generated pictures, like those in, say, Peter Jackson's "King Kong." Nothing in that film is as memorable to me as this movie's scene where the camera closes in on Mabuse and everything around him goes dark, leaving only one glowing, malevolent head floating in the blackness.
The highly exaggerated style of acting from everyone in the cast would look idiotic if seen in isolated bits. Von Welk (Bernhard Goetzke), tilting back his head and crossing his eyes as Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) hypnotizes him, would have been a perfect clip for Jay Ward's "Fractured Flickers." As part of this film, every melodramatic moment from the cast is effective in a way that a more naturalistic style can never be.
Fans of the Mabuse films, which number many more than just Lang's three, are sometimes disappointed by this first incarnation. This Mabuse allows himself violent emotional outbursts, while the later version is marked by icy self-control. The more familiar Mabuse may be an improvement over this one, but they don't quite replace him, and those films don't quite replace this one. This is a treasure for film historians, and indirectly a treasure for fans of the countless movies influenced by it.
For those who simply want a good movie, there's plenty here to reward them, provided they are very, very patient.
This is the movie that features one of fist arch-criminals, Dr. Mabuse.
A manipulative character, who by hypnosis manipulates people and set
them up against each other and steal their money, by letting him play
card games against him, while he lets his opponents deliberately loose,
even when they have the better cards. He manipulates for more money and
the love from respectable woman but also most definitely purely for his
own pleasure. It doesn't need to be explained why Dr. Mabuse is evil,
he just simply IS. That is what makes a great and memorable movie
Definitely true that the second halve of the movie is better than the first. In the second halve the movie really starts to take pace and form. Does it make the first part obsolete? I think not. It perfectly shows how manipulative Dr. Mabuse and the characters also get strongly developed in it. But yes, it's definitely true that the movie is a long sit. Almost 4 hours is of course a long time (and there even is a longer version). It does not ever make the movie bad or boring but it does make it a bit tiresome at times. The movie also isn't easy to follow but that often is the curse of early narrative full-length movies from the '10's and '20's of the previous century.
For 60% of the movie, the movie concentrates on card games. Some of the sequence involving the games are made to look more exciting and and tense than in any James Bond movie ever had been the case.
The movie uses some good early cinematic ticks and also some interesting storytelling techniques such as some interesting fast flashbacks, to help to remind to the viewer of what happened earlier in the story.
The movie also shows some early film-noir tendencies and other thriller and mystery elements. Not just with its story, psychological thriller elements or style of film-making but also with its characters. The main villain Dr. Mabuse is of course the best example of this. He plays an early full-blooded big movie villain, who is also being accompanied by a couple of typical crook-like looking henchmen. All elements that later would become defining for the genre. The movie is about good versus evil, in good early cinematic form.
Some of the tricks make sure that the movie is filled with a couple of memorable and effective sequences, mainly regarding the manipulative hypnosis sequences, by Dr. Mabuse. It makes the movie highly imaginative and original, though it all obviously is not as revolutionary as the other Fritz Lang classics; "Metropolis" and "M".
Of course by todays standards the acting in the movie is definitely over-the-top. Fritz Lang never casted actors just because of their acting skills but also because of their powerful looks. It all helps to make the early acting in Lang movies still fascinating and powerful to watch. Bernhard Goetzke as the state attorney von Welk is a great 'main-hero' for the movie. Of course Rudolf Klein-Rogge is also great as Dr. Mabuse and so is Alfred Abel, though I liked him in "Metropolis" even better.
Definitely worth seeing, if you can handle its long running time.
I really urge you to watch this, but watch beyond the caper, watch the
character beyond the simply nefarious evil mastermind that he appears
as, and you'll be stunned with the the complexity of forces at work; at
the center is a man who - having mastered the mind - can guide vision
into shaping worlds and, from the inverse point-of-view of the
unwitting victims, the shaped world as the stage of some
indecipherable, chaotic spiel.
So what this really is, is the precursor of film noir. The genre as later assumed by American hands - once Germans fled there - transferred Mabuse out of sight, but the fundamental movement remains: we had to assume the notion that somewhere, on a cosmic station above, the images that down here formed reality were being controlled and manipulated. What the protagonists in these films experienced as a world of fertile, opportunous chaos, and would therefore exploit to their own advantage, was eventually revealed to be a chimera of the mind led astray; the world was being supervised and kept in ledgers all along.
This is pretty amazing stuff to have then; we can see the manipulator inside the manipulated world, and the motions that bring consequences on both ends of the illusion. The first scene shows Mabuse dealing cards with on them the faces of the players, the actors who are about to perform in the orchestrated fiction - Mabuse's inside the film, and also Lang's film about Mabuse. And there is a woman who is our surrogate viewer in all this; she watches the gamblers from a distance, searching faces for thrills and sensations.
All this touches at the heart of self-referential cinema in ways that still astound by how erudite, how in-sightful. Viewers who are looking for films about the mind weaving films will be delighted.
There is one scene that will be absolutely unequaled in film until the second great cinema of Resnais and Tarkovsky some forty years later. It shows Mabuse operating an illusion on stage before a packed theater; the entire audience watches transfixed at people magically walking out of a screen into the middle of the auditorium - and vanishing at a snap of the fingers - none of them realizing the confrontation that is actually playing out within the fantasy.
But there is an extra layer that further elevates this. So what is perceived by the players as unluck or the chance turn of a card, from our double perspective rooted in Mabuse's mind is revealed as part of the same, decisive plan. Yet Mabuse is not a godlike presence, he is steeped in human passions; icy but on occasion petulant, seething, lusting, the mask full of emotional cracks.
So, on one level we have a controlled reality as a puppet show of absurdities, but on the other end finally we get a glimpse of the mind cracking under the weight of what it must control, under the burden of the operated illusion. The final vision is a nightmare where these controlled images animate themselves against their tyrant. Tellingly it happens in a locked room; the blind people that were tasked by Mabuse to deal with his fortunes, in fact his counterfeit fortunes, now transform into apparitions of guilt.
Few films have so deeply influenced our cinematic vision, from Vertigo to Lynch. It has been since disguised and embellished, but it's revealed here for the first time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Made 9 years before "M" and 3 before "Metropolis", Fritz Lang's true masterpiece about a Gambler Dr Mabuse who tries to possess a gambler's mind, enter a romantic french dancer, her brother named Richard Fleury, yes, Fleury. It was the first ever film to recieve the UK certificate "18", Fritz Lang's film though is no more shocking than "M" in which the main character is a mentally ill child molester! Anyway, back to the point, Mabuse is a stroke of genius, worth watching, whoever you are!
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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