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In the not-too-distant future Berlin is shocked by a series of spectacular suicides; a policeman's investigations lead him to a beautiful, enigmatic woman and the revelation of a sinister plot to manipulate the population through mass hypnosis. Written by
Chabrol makes two in-joke references to the original Dr. Mabuse movie, of which this is a remake: a trucker named 'Rudi Klein-Rogge', after the actor who portrayed Mabuse in the 1922 movie, and a policeman who falsely gives his name as 'Lang', after the director Fritz Lang. See more »
To begin with, I vividly recall reading the mixed newspaper review of this one when it was surprisingly released locally; needless to say, I missed it at the time and, until earlier this year, never again did I have the opportunity to check it out. In fact, it turned up alas, dubbed on late-night Italian TV and, though I did record it, I recently opted to acquire the English-language version which is just as well, since two deleted scenes were included in the package! Anyway, knowing the flak the film has received (which was practically universal), I really did not know what to expect from it. However, I must say that I liked it quite a bit, while acknowledging it cannot hold a candle to any of Fritz Lang's movies revolving around the influential figure of criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse (here, the name has even been changed to Marsfeldt!). Incidentally, the actor most identified with the role (in a revival series of 1960s low-budget efforts) i.e. Wolfgang Preiss appears here as the Chief Of Police!
Perhaps the film does at times feel like one of the many German TV cop shows which have flooded the market from the 1970s and still continue to this day, but there is no denying the grip of the narrative (which tried, but unfortunately failed, to be prophetic when the Berlin Wall got torn down only months before the picture debuted!). Equally striking is the imagery pertaining to mass suicide (the most disturbing being a child waiter in full view of the patrons at a swank and busy restaurant), media manipulation and wasted disco-crazy youth (appropriately bleak though, I concede, not all that original).
The intense performances are also a plus: particularly Alan Bates as the outwardly charming but obviously sinister Dr. M and Jan Niklas as the disenchanted yet dogged cop on his trail of terror, though heroine Jennifer Beals proves no mere purveyor of eye candy either. Indeed, Bates' occasional resort to hamminess (especially when he passes himself off as a psychedelic guru at a desert holiday resort and spouting his nihilistic credo to an incredulous, disgusted Beals and Niklas during the climax set in the Doctor's obligatory 'control room' all the while connected to a life-support system!) are perfectly in keeping with the fanciful goings-on. The eclectic cast also includes the likes of Euro-Cult regular William Berger, future Italian TV presenter Daniela Poggi and former "Brat Pack"-er Andrew McCarthy in small roles.
In the end, while it may fall short of Chabrol's best work, the film nonetheless makes for a thought-provoking, stylized and yet entertaining parable on our less-than-reassuring times (incidentally, its suggestion/fear of the millennium as the 'end of days' is pretty amusing at this juncture).
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