The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) Poster

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Excellent Lang Crime Drama
FilmFlaneur1 April 2004
Lang's last film in Germany before he hurriedly left the country (the director claimed that he had lately been offered a key position in the Nazi-controlled film industry), The Testament Of Dr Mabuse (aka: Das Testament des Dr Mabuse) is best seen as a warning by a departing talent, as well as a continuation of many of the themes of the director's previous work. Dr Mabuse, The Gambler (1922) had been a great success, and his new film, his second made in sound, capitalises on the reputation both of the earlier film and the grand social malevolence of its central character. Mabuse is another of Lang's evil, all-controlling masterminds - he was to reappear again in the director's last film, The 1,000 Eyes Of Dr Mabuse (1960) - the representation of whose hypnotic presence and malign influence was to find disfavour with the followers of Hitler. The Nazis gained power during the post-production period of the film and, while recognising the great director's talent; Testament was promptly banned by Goebbels who found the political portrait implicit in Mabuse too close to home. In later years Lang was to suggest that the film was intended as a political parable, although this might have been exaggerated.

As the present film opens, Inspector Lohmann (a splendidly grouchy Otto Wernicke) receives a message from a former criminal associate who has stumbled onto a massive criminal conspiracy. Before the details can be spelt out, the crook is hunted down and killed. Investigating his disappearance Lohmann discovers the name Mabuse scratched on a windowpane (a clue echoed in Lang's M, in which Lohmann also appears.) Mabuse is discovered in an asylum in the charge of Dr Baum (Oscar Beregi). The criminal genius, insane but with his remaining magnetic attraction intact, is feverishly writing detailed notes on prospective crimes. When Mabuse dies, a visiting Dr Kramm finds the brilliant criminal notes of Dr Mabuse on the floor, compares a news report of a jewellery robbery to what he is now reading and tells Baum that he is going to report it to the police. He is promptly killed by Mabuse's elite Section 2B hitmen on orders from the unseen leader - a scene set in traffic that found an echo over 30 years later in The Ipcress File (1965). Meanwhile a romance develops between Kent (Gustav Diessel), one of the henchmen of Mabuse's gang, still apparently controlled by remote control instructions, and the woman Lilly (Vera Liessem) who helped him when he was down and out. Mabuse's 'testament' thus lies in both the meticulously planned crimes, which make up his posthumous papers as well as his hypnotic and malign influence on those who are controlled by him.

Critics have compared the visual style of this film with those of others from the same period, notably Spione (aka: Spies, 1928), Lang's most recent comparable social thriller. Testament is far more cluttered, its visual confusion suggesting moral complexity as well as the closing in of threatening events - both as far as the characters are concerned and, as it unfortunately turned out, for German society in general. In M, evil was detected in the presence of a murderous outsider, one eventually brought to book by a benign conspiracy of the underworld. Here there is a web of criminal activity and corruption from which no one is entirely immune, and in which many are driven by a murderous compulsion to obey an evil power. At the same time, Lang is happy enough to introduce into this world of social corruption elements of thrills and suspense, which spring from a much simpler world of serials and adventure stories. The near documentary feel of a lot of the film is interspersed with explosions, floods, chases and close escapes. In this way the sombre, far reaching criminalities of Mabuse's schemes, rooted in current socio-political unrest are counter-pointed with time honoured pleasures brought by crime melodrama. Lang had a weakness for this sort of drama: The Spiders Part II: The Diamond Ship (1920) contains a somewhat similar but much shorter, scene, where the hero is also trapped in a water filling room from which he escapes. It has been noted just how much of the action of Testament plays out like a dream, and in this sense it anticipates the disorientating mood which would characterise much of noir cinema of a few years later - of which the newly Americanised Lang would be a major exponent. Certainly the arch criminal mastermind of Mabuse has something in common with such later characters as, say Mike Lagana in The Big Heat (1953) although such figures in Lang's American period are far less omniscient. Once Hitler was out of the way, Lang increasingly saw the manipulation of human life as the province of fate rather than men, a view that had made its first ongoing appearance as far back as Der Müde Tod (Destiny, 1923). In Testament, some indeed appear pre-doomed by a nemesis stalking them, although this is largely placed in the human realm. Events play out like an unstoppable nightmare - a feeling reinforced by Mabuse's somnambulistic appearance as he constructs evil from his bed, the presence of ghosts, the unreality of the mysterious drama which unfolds and such scenes as the weird opening, its surreal use of factory sound anticipating the dark sound-scapes of Eraserhead (1978). By the end of Lang's film there is a sense that all have been involved in some grand combine of evil, and that the disorder and social chaos it presages has only just been forestalled - not by justice, but madness.

Modern viewers coming to Lang's film will find much to enjoy, even if some of the incidental elements have necessarily become a little dated. The editing and camerawork are excellent, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge's piercingly intense Mabuse is a memorable creation. Lohmann and the supporting cast are memorable characters, although the romantic interest between Kent and Lilly looks a little faded after all these years. It's a film in which special effects go hand in hand with suspense and the staging is still impressive. Amongst the most memorable scenes are those are the end with the destruction of the chemical factory and the expressionistic car chase back to the asylum. Most importantly, while the morally debilitating effects of the post-war German depression as well as the impending rise of adulatory Nazism have now passed into history, Lang's dramatisation of cause and effect remains as electric as ever in one of the finest films of his early sound career.
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Two crowded hours
rpowell-417 January 2006
This film's a thriller, a detective story, a ghost story; it has romantic and comic sub-plots, a striking array of sets, some of the first convincing special effects ever used, echoes of other films; and it is not hard to find in it political relevance to today. It's a lot to cram into two hours, and one has to work to follow every twist of the plot, but it is both a rewarding and entertaining experience.

The film draws on an exceptionally wide variety of cinematic styles. There are expressionist moments, and these are particularly striking, but they account for only two or three minutes out of a running time of 120. There are moments when one could almost be in a screwball comedy. And there are moments which come close to social realism – it would be interesting to know whether the patients at the mental hospital played themselves. The dominant mode, though, is an anticipation of film noir.

I would, though, counsel against investing too much historical hindsight in this film – yes, Fritz Lang did go into exile from the Nazis – but it is more the shadow of Weimar than the shadow of Hitler that hovers in the background here.

Not perfect; not an absolute masterpiece: but an occasionally stunning and always stimulating film, which deserves 9 out of 10.
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The prototype thriller
denmans16 February 2006
The film reads like a trainer for all the thrillers that came thereafter: The staring face reminiscent of 'Alien', the scary opening scene, which deserves to be better known, the tough but lovable cop, the haunted (literally) master criminal, the asylum, the heroine with an excuse to get her dress all wet and clingy, the Mae West look-alike, the spooky special effects, the explosions and the fires (real ones not your computer generated rubbish), the shoot out, the chase through the woods, the car chase, the high tech gadgets (using 78 vinyl!). There's even what looks like a placement add (Mercedes, during the car chase). Yes, all the thriller clichés are there but way back in 1933 they weren't clichés. Unfortunately some rather wooden acting by the heroine, Wera Liessem, who seems to be stuck in silent film mode, mars the film.

As for the political overtones, I'm not sure if these were deliberate. Lang's stories about himself were as fantastical as his films, especially the one about being offered the head of the Reich films.
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The Ultimate Cinema Villain
Eumenides_08 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, I'm struck with the notion that every filmmaker should at least make a silent movie before graduating to talking pictures. Fritz Lang already had a long long career in silent movies before creating this masterpiece: The weary Death, Dr. Mabuse The Gambler, Siegfried's Death, Metropolis. From these speechless movie he learned to rely on powerful scenes and clear sequences to convey information.

When he moved to sound pictures, he didn't just put talking heads on screen. He created amazing, suspenseful sequences which use the settings' sounds and the characters' own behavior and facial expressions to tell the story.

The first sequence of the movie defines the movie's style very well: a man hides behind a trunk in an empty room. Everywhere we can hear the sound of heavy machinery, certainly marking the rhythm of his own heart beats as two men enter the room and move towards the trunk. One spots his foot, but they don't betray their knowledge of him. They walk out and wait to ambush him. The man hiding isn't an idiot either and doesn't leave through the door. But man are waiting him outside nevertheless.

No words are exchanged, we don't know who's who, but its' one of the most suspenseful and clearest sequences I've seen in cinema in a long time, the type Alfred Hitchcock was learning to make by the time this movie came out.

Throughout the movie we see sequences like these. Lang realized sound wasn't just for dialogue but an important storytelling technique too; he had realized that already in M, in which a killer is found out by his trademark whistling. But The Testament of Dr. Mabuse takes sound to new heights. Modern filmmakers should take a few lessons from Lang his contemporaries.

But what's this movie about anyway? It's the sequel to Lang's 1922 Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler; I haven't seen it and I regret it because events from that movie have a lot of important in this one. Lang fills in the details as best as he can, but I bet nothing beats watching the real deal.

Dr Mabuse, a master criminal, lives now in an asylum and spends his days writing what seems to be a testament. Meanwhile criminals carry out elaborate crimes. Slowly we realize the criminals and Mabuse's testament are connected, but how can that be if he's locked up and seemingly insane? That's what Commissioner Lohmann tries to find out in this labyrinthine crime thriller.

People who have prejudices against old movies, black-and-white movies and foreign subtitled movies, should learn this is one of the best movies ever made, mixing just about every genre imaginable, from horror to romance; engaging from start to finish, with one of the best villains ever to grace cinema and with one of the most realistic and logical plots to spread crime and gain power, Lang created a precious gem that honors the history and language of cinema.
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Weird and good
dennis-776 September 1999
If only they made films like this now. The Testament of Doctor Mabuse is a strange film but very good. It has a police man who is a maverick who everyone respects about 20 years before there were any others and a master criminal who wants to take over the world and could probably do it. A spooky film in parts and the special effects are down right fantastic, and what's more they fit in with the story and aren't put there just for putting them ins sake. A really good film.
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"In the end, you HAVE to become a criminal"
Steffi_P30 May 2009
Of all storytelling mediums, the one that perhaps has most in common with cinema is the comic book. Both tell stories primarily through pictures, both have a similar concept of the frame, and both become clumsy and uninteresting if they rely too much on words. But few films immersed themselves so completely in a comic book-style world as the German pictures of Fritz Lang.

What is especially comic-bookish about a picture like Testament of Dr Mabuse is not just its fast-paced adventure plot, but its timeless, placeless exaggeration of reality. Just like Batman's Gotham City, there are few if any references to real locations or people, and every character and organisation is a surreal caricature of a real-world counterpart. That's why Tim Burton's is the best Batman, because it properly recreates that over-the-top version of reality. This approach is also what makes pictures like this so compelling and accessible.

It's because of this approach that I feel this is a (slightly) superior picture to M. M was really the only one of Lang's German pictures that, plot-wise at least, seemed grounded in reality, and yet it is still populated those crazy character types. However , in the comic-book world of Dr Mabuse these figures fit right in. Otto Wernicke reprises his role as Inspector Karl "Fatty" Lohmann (hurrah!), and the character seems much more at home here.

This picture is not quite so tightly constructed as M, but Lang instead throws everything into creating a sense of unease. As with the first Dr Mabuse film (Der Spieler, shot by Lang in 1922), audience participation is crucial. Lang several times has Dr Baum speak his lines straight into the camera, making the character audience and the real-world audience share the same angle. In locations such as the "curtain room" he shows us all sides, so that we too feel trapped between those four walls. Since his silent days he has added a new string to his bow, in that he now uses the occasional camera movement to physically pull the audience into the film's world. Also consider the final moment in relation to this pattern of camera-as-audience shots.

The Testament of Dr Mabuse is a captivating, horror-tinged thriller, and the last great picture to be produced in Germany before things went tits up, politically. It seems to represent everything that made Weimar cinema perfect for Lang, and everything that made him a misfit in Hollywood – its surreal theatricality, its dominance of set-design over actors, its blending of genres. Like the comic book writer, Lang dealt in myths (both in and out of his films - the story of his meeting with Goebbels, for example, is almost certainly a fabrication). The Testament of Dr Mabuse is one of his greatest.
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The most timely film I saw in 2001!
billcody13 March 2002
Fritz Lang's last German film was was a warning shot over the bow regarding where the world was headed. He was right, and he was run out of Germany.

Everyone should be forced to watch this wonderful film. Not only is the film making incredible for the time - it is incredible period. And talk about suspenseful. I was glued to my seat and I never looked at my watch. A real testament these days, as I often find myself looking at my watch several times when watching recent Hollywood fare. Fritz Lang was brilliant!
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Herr Lang's German SwanSong
Bucs196010 October 2005
Fritz Lang, the greatest of directors, finished this film and fled Germany as the Third Reich was raising it's ugly head. And what a film it is!!!! Although it may be too stylized for some, it speaks volumes of what was to come in noir film making. The story is a little over the top but that only adds to the appeal.

With only limited screen time, Rudolf Klein-Rogge is just magnificent. What a face!!! I became familiar with him as Rotwang in Metropolis and have tried to view any film in which he appears. Unhappily, his presence in this film is more felt than seen but still worth the effort. He reprises the Mabuse character from the earlier "Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler" which ended with him being incarcerated in an mental hospital. This film picks up where the other left off and the scenes in the hospital with Klein-Rogge are mesmerizing.

The opening scene as a fugitive is trapped beneath the factory gives the story a kick start as the pounding of the machinery drives him (and viewers) to distraction. No dialogue is necessary.

The love story is a little weak but does not detract from the overall film. There is also a scene which involves the shooting of a character at a traffic light.....fantastic.

I would recommend this films to anyone unfamiliar with Herr Lang's work. You will become a lifelong fanatic!
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French version of celebrated crime movie.
Mozjoukine5 November 2009
Fritz Lang's Das TESTAMENT des Dr.MABUSE is a mesmerising, master-crafted entertainment which no serious movie freak will have missed. The largely forgotten, parallel French version, filmed simultaneously with a French speaking cast, is like most of these foreign versions, a poor relation. I'm glad I saw the German one first - twice in a week as it happens.

Shorter than the German film, it truncates the lovers subplot and plays it with colourless juveniles, omits the giant eye make up shots of Klein Rogge, which re-call Dr. Baum's art collection and, worse, attempts to up the pace by chopping off the fade out scene transitions - giving correctly, the impression that there is something missing.

The German cast is uniformly superior, with the possible exception of the jolly, frankfurter-cooking henchman, who does manage to make an impression. Jim Gerald was a comedian - effectively so in CHAPEAU de PAILEE d'ITALIE and FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS - and he lacks the monolith menace that Wernike provides. Thommy Bordelle is normally an unimposing performer and, giving it his best shot, he's still no fair swap for the the great Oscar Beregei, in the one circulating film where we get to hear Beregei's voice. The French Dr. Kramm (who is he?), in particular, is out classed by Theodore Loos (the secretary from METROPOLIS among other stand-out performances).

Well it's still Lang's Mabuse film and remains intermittently effective - Hoffmeister's vision of Lohman's entry into his see through cell is still a grabber - and it is another piece of the jig saw and another, if minor, Lang movie. So nice to get to see it after all these years.
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A not to be missed masterpiece of suspense filmmaking
JohnSeal27 November 1999
Even today The Testament of Dr Mabuse is refreshingly original and at times startling to watch. Lang was truly one of the greats of cinema and along with Alfred Hitchcock basically invented the suspense film. This film is also the reason Lang left Germany, as it wasn't viewed kindly by the newly elected government.
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Just for one short scene
Nazi_Fighter_David24 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
For all its excitement, action, fantasy, this film would for me live in the history of the cinema just for one short scene…

It deals with a killing at traffic lights as a driver is shot from a car that has pulled alongside his, the sound of the shot obliterated by the sound of the horns of the other impatient drivers… But Lang never takes us right 'into' the incident…

At the payoff we look down from an overhead angle on the cars packed together at the signals: then they all pull away – all but one, which remains motionless and alone in the middle of the road after the lights have changed… No violence, no blood, is needed for us to be eerily aware that a man who was alive when the lights were at red is dead now they are at green
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Fantastic start: perhaps things get a little out of hand somewhere during the latter half, though.
Per_Klingberg29 April 2003
One of Fritz Lang's most wellknown works, and a classic piece of German expressionism. A sequel to the silent film 'Dr. Mabuse, der spieler', archcriminal Mabuse has now been driven way beyond sanity and has spent the last eleven years in an asylum.

Our dear doctor spent the first few years in a catatonic state, totally unreachable. Then one day something akin to progress was made. The patient started to scribble down what seemed like gibberish on the walls. The patient was given paper to write on, and since then Mabuse has been writing nonstop, line after line, paper after paper. Acknowledged doctor Baum has ever since taken a great deal of interest both in his patient and in this "work" of his. If one momentarily could just step inside Mabuse's sick and twisted mind, then a cure might be possible...

And then it happens. Baum manages to decipher the text, and realizes that what he has in his hand might very well be a political essay of the same importance and power as Machiavelli's 'The Prince'. Throw mankind in the deepest abyss of despair, Mabuse says, using any means possible. Through random acts of violence, through organized terrorism, whatever will lead mankind to the brink of destruction. And then claim power.

Soon after this discovery strange crimes are being committed, and rumors of an organized criminal movement mobilizing underground are spread. It does not take long until Berlin is a city in terror.

This is where commissioner Lohmann comes in, doing his best to trace down the roots of the terrorist groups. Strangely enough, the evidence seems to point towards - the asylum and Dr. Mabuse!

The first half of this film is classic horror - through a visit to the asylum and a lecture by Baum we learn of Mabuse's work. And when we, together with Lohmann, is introduced to Mabuse (locked up in his cell) and meet his maddened gaze...well, it's a truly CHILLING moment!

We also learn of how a young man with good intentions through poverty is forced to seek work in organized crime. While trying to leave the group he realizes there is only one way out: death. Another claustrophobic and suspenseful moment in the movie.

Somewhere in the latter half of the movie things get a little out of hand. When the mystery with Mabuse's influence on the outside world finally has been solved, some of the incredible dark atmosphere is lost. Instead we get more of a traditional crime/suspense-kind of film, and the high amount of plots makes the film drag on just a little too long.

The eery atmosphere in the earlier parts of the movie, the fantastic expressionist style and many original and innovative moments makes this a 'must-see' for those with an interest for early German Cinema, or those looking for the roots to genres as horror and film noir. While the early parts of this movie is a definite masterpiece, the latter half feels somewhat flawed though.

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Viewer Possession
tedg11 October 2008
(This comment is on the fully restored Criterion edition.)

I see that my comments on the Mabuse films have been deleted. There was an IMDb era when any offended reader could exact revenge by successfully complaining of scores of comments. But I guess that's apt for the aura of this film, its history of being suppressed and its themes.

I find watching Lang movies to be frustrating. His most celebrated films: "Metropolis" and "M" don't resonate with me as they do with others. Even though they have effective scenes, they are effective not because they are cinematic, but because they are masterful stagecraft. After Lang went to Hollywood, claiming this to be anti-Hitler, his films turned mechanical.

It was only with this project that he hits my sweet spot, where his attentions are turned to all the elements of the cinematic art. This is whole, and innovative in every element. Others may find the many plots overloaded and in some cases turgid. But I think the density of story is essential to the elegant narrative tricks that this uses - all of them rooted in the film as film.

We have, possibly for the first time, non-linear narrative designed in a way to confuse the viewer so that we are inserted as detective, actively engaged in watching merely to make sense of what we see. The thing is envisioned as a whole with many reflections, many cycles, many connections between scenes and jumping among scenes. Images, sounds, ideas, characters contrast with and merge with each other. Its a tight fabric with so many junctions we can navigate as we wish, or as we have skills.

Yes, there are ordinary pleasures, too: amazing effects shots, one of the best chase scenes ever filmed, some very fine use of grime. But they re merely incidental to the way that this symphony is constructed and executed. This is one of the few films in my experience that gets bigger the more you learn about its provenance: the infidelities between the filmmaker and his screenwriter wife; the business with Hilter, much obfuscated by later Lang claims and the notion that he would do so. The original novel, The previous and subsequent Lang Mabuse films and their failings, indeed the breakage of his career. The many incarnations of this film on its way to us.

The way it overtly is written to influence, containing a story about writing that influences. The way it deceives on the screen, containing a story about deception behind a "screen."

The sex, as it penetrates the whole thing without ever being shown. The fact that although you can see it as having historical significance, you can still after 75 years see it as a modern, immediately effective experience from a man that for one year actually mattered. Still does.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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Grandfather of Serials?
DrSatan7 October 1999
If you know anything about 30's and 40's serials, then you'll recognize my name, Dr. Satan is stolen from one. I love the cheap things, mainly for the odd ideas, like the mastermind who communicates with his men by radio, the death traps etc. I've also enjoyed every Fritz Lang movie I've seen so far. Mabuse is a Fritz Lang serial. I'm not sure if he invented the ideas I've seen used so many times later, but he certainly puts them out with greater style and skill than the serials ever did. His villain, is the most intense I've seen, and the concept that he rules his gang from the walls of the sanitarium, and then from beyond the grave is not only spectacular, its well done. The subplot, about the good man, who only joined Mabuse because he had no job, and his girlfriend is weak, however. I understand that it moves the plot along, and if you view Mabuse as Hitler than the good man is there to show how innocents have been swept along with him, but overall this part of the film is weak. Overall, however, this is a very interesting film.
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Enthralling picture
vostf11 February 2001
Fritz Lang brings in the visual artistry he developed in his silent movies. The first Dr Mabuse movie (the Gambler) was a series of portrait of that evil genius. He would direct crimes like Fritz Lang directs his movies. He is successful and as we get closer to that astounding character we see him want even more than all the money his crimes can draw. That is love. And that's the hinge factor. With the end of his crime empire the genius has become a lunatic with a fixed stare.

So Dr. Mabuse has been in a lunatic asylum for 10 years and everybody forgot him as they thought there would be nothing to fear any more. It is where The Testament of Dr Mabuse starts. The very beginning is like a silent movie: Lang uses an old factory as the haunt of criminals (the Gambler's haunt was already fantastic). The only sound comes from the oppressing machines. An ambiance you felt with the workers of Metropolis. That is only the beginning of a masterful suspense overture.

Hence Lang goes through different story lines, one too much maybe but everything revolves around the lunatic asylum. On the other hand the story may lack the overwhelming presence of Rudolf Kleine-Rogge in the Gambler. Anyway I think Lang understood he could not rely on the pictures as much as what he did with silent movies. The converging stories reach a fantastic climax and to get there much of the visual quality gets you in the movie, either wanting to know more or fearing what may come out.

Goebbels feared what may come out. The movie about a crime master writing crime recipes in his cell may have been too close to the story of Hitler writing Mein Kampf while in jail. A vision strengthened by the criminal's last words. Called by Goebbels to be explained the reasons why the movie would not be released, Fritz Lang listened the propaganda minister -a great fan of Metropolis- putting his name forward for the head of the Reich cinema department. Lang objected his mother was jewish. "WE will decide who's jewish and who's not!" answered Goebbels. The same evening Lang had gathered all the cash he could and took the train to Paris.
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Absolutely Brilliant!
MWNiese13 April 2008
**********Ten Out Of Ten Stars**********

Produced in Germany, the film was banned in that country upon release. It would be 1951 before the film would play in Germany, and even then it was slightly edited to a 111 minute running time, opposed to the original 121 minute version. This film is truly amazing. If I hadn't known before hand that it was produced in 1933, I would have guessed it to have been made in the early fifties. The film is far ahead of it's time in both content and production. Dr. Mabuse can be classified as part mystery, part horror, part psychological thriller, and part social/ political commentary.

The story begins with Dr. Mabuse, a master hypnotist, already incarcerated in an insane asylum for attempting to sabotage Germany's monetary system. Upon capture, after a fierce fight with the German police state, Mabuse is judged to be criminally insane and spared the death penalty. The film's core plot revolves around an organized crime group's plan to destroy the German social infrastructure by sabotaging the banking and industrial complexes, resulting in mass chaos and wide spread death. Here's the real twist though, the crime group is being operated by none-other than Dr. Mabuse. How is this possible with Mabuse locked away you might ask? Well, watch the movie……..

The political ideologies addressed here revolve around the idea that humanity is a hopeless, disgusting, selfish, greedy, and hypocritical realm that deserves only to be obliterated from the face of the earth. And to think, these ideas are being touted before George W. Bush took office. The power of the private individual is also touted as being more powerful than the State, which is the main reason it was banned in Germany. This film is more controversial than anything I've seen the so-called main-stream Hollywood dip-sh** liberals produce, ever.

Also addressed is the emerging societal element of organized crime, and the power and intelligence that it yields and employs. It's amazing a film made in 1933 could confront such a dark social commentary, exposing political ideals many still consider taboo. Just as minorities may be purposely excluded from film, unpopular political beliefs are susceptible to conservative censorship, and are so excluded everyday even in 2010. This film dares to go where most people still are afraid to go.
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The End of an Era
eibon0411 January 2001
This classic thriller is an allegory of the nazis early rise to power in Germany and their future intentions. Censored by the Nazis government and not seen in its full form until many years later. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse(1933) deals with the themes of free will, genius, madness, and power. The Dr. Mabuse character foreshadows the great James Bond villains of Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Ernest Blofeld. Would be the final film that director Fritz Lang would do in Germany for many years until 1960 for his final film, The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse.
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"The ultimate goal of crime, is to create an empire of everlasting crime."
sc803128 May 2008
Haha, yes!! Throw everything else away, this movie is the real deal! Horror, suspense, crime, drama, political commentary, etc. It's basically every damn film that has ever existed, but much better than all of those! Now, it's not QUITE as good as "M!" the Fritz Lang movie done right before this. But it's up there.

The fact that this is a Criterion release should be convincing in of itself that you watch this (although Criterion mysteriously releases garbage like "Armageddon" ?!). Not to mention, Lang simultaneously filmed the same film with French actors. What a crazy ambitious dude!

There are a wide range of messages in this baby. The Fuhrer didn't want you to see it, thus you should see it. Mandatory viewing.
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Phantoms that haunt "Testament of Dr. Mabuse"
myboigie30 January 2005
It's funny, this is the third-time I have written a review of this film, and I have no-intention of giving-up yet! After reading a few of the BFI's texts (in-particular, "If...."), there was nothing in my text that violated any of the guidelines of IMDb! Without focusing on IMDb too-much, I have to admit the other time was, which should be of no surprise to anyone. So, I'll sum-it-up: if you have ever wondered if there is something wrong with modern-civilization--you are correct, and Fritz Lang's "Testament of Dr. Mabuse" will confirm many of these deep-seated fears on the abuse of power, and the deceptions inherent in all-forms of media. Some historical and thematic background illuminates the "Mabuse" mythos more clearly...

Postmoderist writers like Bataille have pointed-out that we are constantly-assailed by "constructs" or phantoms: is the Osama Bin-Laden we "know" anything close to the real one? Our so-called "leaders"? Of course not. Is a "marketplace" economy, or "globalization" exactly what they are presented as? Was the Gulf War what we were presented-with? Of course not, and so-on. Lang was certainly ahead-of-his-time in making all of the Mabuse films, pointing-out the problems we are all faced-with in our present-modernity.

Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, and Norbert Jacques had many models from their own era: numerous war-profiteers, Sidney Reilly, the super-spy, as well as the international arms-trafficker, Basil Zaharoff ("the Greek,"one of Reilly's main-mentors), not the simple-analogy of rising National Socialism. And yet, one can find some implied Platonic-thought in these themes of a "false-reality," since when is Mabuse ever "Mabuse"--the very-thing itself, or a fake? Lang's films are like artichokes and onions--there's always a new-layer one never suspected.

In "Testament of Dr. Mabuse," we are assaulted with the same themes. Mabuse may reside in a Sanitarium, but his ideas are free-floating, alive. Whether he--or the true-terrorists--are alive-or-dead is immaterial, both literally and figuratively. Their ideas infect those who are already ripe for control, such as the Director of the Sanitarium he resides in! He and Mabuse are the same, sowers of the chaos-within. In the end...there is no end to the will-to-power, something off-putting to some who are used-to the "good" winning. In Lang's films, everyone is deeply-flawed, just like real-life.

A must-see, try the Criterion edition which is nearly flawless!! More than just a thriller. Lang's approach is pure-noir before it was even a film-term. His use of composition has been copied again-and-again, because it is so effective in this film;power-relationships abound in each tableau. Some have called this one of the last German Expressionist films, but it really only has elements in a certain scene you will spot immediately. Also: the film is finally available in the original aspect-ratio of 1:19-1, with a pristine-transfer from the negatives and the best extant-materials. This is the real video revolution! Directors need to draw on Lang's legacy more, as we might have better films to watch.
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Brilliant and exciting
Rosabel9 September 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This spellbinding work was Fritz Lang's last film to be made in Germany. The negative reaction of the Nazi government to this story of a criminal mastermind destabilizing society through terror crimes prompted Lang to leave the country for his own safety. The parallels between the film, with its plot of a hidden criminal psychopath issuing orders to his followers to carry out acts of industrial sabotage, currency forging and other attacks on the public safety, and the Nazis' thuggish tactics in seizing power in Germany, make for an interesting subtext. Though coming at the end of the expressionist era in filmmaking, "Testament" contains many fascinating images and themes consistent with this rich movement in German film. The chase scene near the end, where Dr. Baum flees from the police in his car down a tree-lined road at night, is a perfect visual realization of his increasing mania, as the white tree-trunks spin madly past at ever-accelerating speed. As is often the case in German expressionist films, much of the plot revolves around insanity and takes place in an insane asylum, where the mad Dr. Mabuse of the title is incarcerated. The forces of order and stability are represented by Inspector Lohmann, a stout, shrewd policeman, whose no-nonsense approach contrasts sharply with that of the sensitive, imaginative intellectual, Dr. Baum. But despite Lohmann's virtues, the conclusion of the film is a slightly ambiguous one, as evil is not overcome by good, but instead collapses under the weight of its own insanity. The final scene, with the asylum door shutting upon the broken criminal mastermind, does not provide a solution to the problem of evil, but only leaves us feeling relieved that this time, at least, we have escaped intact from its clutches.
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Very much ahead of its time.
bobsgrock1 December 2008
Compared to most films in Hollywood in the 1930s, Fritz Lang's mystery thriller The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is years ahead of the game in terms of plot and camera techniques. There are some shots in this movie that would not be seen until Orson Welles' famous Citizen Kane, which forever changed the cinema. However, I think it's safe to say that Lang was doing the same thing in Germany at the time when Nazi rule was in the wake. In this complex and filling story, a veteran criminal with a brilliant mind has been in an insane asylum for ten years yet is writing memoirs that seem to predict crimes happening outside. The Inspector Lohmann attempts to solve this case, not knowing how strange and convoluted it really is. Despite the complexity of it, this film is rather easy to follow and boasts some great performances and use of sound. Considering this was only Lang's second film using sound, it is a wonder he did what he could with it. The movie opens with a noisy print shop and a man hiding behind a huge trunk. The loud and obnoxious noise of the printer continues all throughout the scene and shows what sound can really do to a film. All in all, Lang shows his pioneering ability to use the resources available in ways no one had thought of at the time. There are hints of German Expressionism here, but mostly just a well-told and engaging detective story that certainly will not age any time soon.
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Movie Odyssey Review #084: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Cyke9 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
084: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) - released in France 4/12/33, viewed 2/6/07.

The recently elected Nazis under Julius Streicher organize a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. Beer is legalized in the U.S.

DOUG: As Hitler's conquest of Germany begins to take hold, European filmmaker extraordinaire Fritz Lang unleashes one last psychological crime thriller on his home country before divorcing his Nazi-sympathizing wife and skipping town for good to head to Hollywood. And quite a good film it is. It's a sound movie that is a sequel to a silent movie Lang directed years before. Lang shows off a few cool tricks here and there with sound, including a very clever chase in the film's opening that culminates in a rather odd, but nonetheless cool, on-screen explosion. Otto Wernicke reprises his role from 'M' as Commissioner Lohmann, who investigates a series of strange crimes in which all clues point to criminal mastermind and hypnotist Dr. Mabuse. There's just one problem: Mabuse has been catatonic in a mental institution for years. How can he be overseeing these complex criminal operations without leaving his cell or talking to anyone? We see precious little of Mabuse himself, but like Hans Beckert before him, his presence is everywhere, as criminals and innocents chillingly become victims of the mad doctor's strange power; one inspector is so traumatized by an attempt on his life that he is forced to constantly relive the moments before he was almost killed; a member of Mabuse's gang, hoping to leave his life of crime, is captured along with his girlfriend and stuck in a locked room with a ticking bomb he can't find; and the man in charge of Mabuse's case, Professor Baum, seems strangely obsessed with the doctor's manic journals. Wernicke carries most of the film, chewing lots of scenery and cigars while kicking plenty of criminal ass, although he takes a little too long to figure out the final twist. I'm a little surprised the film wasn't remade in Hollywood (If it was, it would probably have been 30 minutes shorter, and not as good). What is interesting about the film now is its allegory on the Nazi takeover that was occurring at the time. While other German films seemed to stumble on the darkness creeping across the country by accident, the parallels here seem quite intentional. Mabuse is Hitler, brilliant and psychotic, completely dedicated to evil, influencing others by force of will and malice. Dr. Baum represents the population that he has enthralled.

KEVIN: As his once native Germany goes to hell in a handcart, director Fritz Lang delivers his most complex thriller yet, in the sequel to his 1922 silent hit 'Dr. Mabuse.' This film, 'The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,' finds the demented hypnotist conducting his criminal empire from his jail cell. As well as mystery and crime drama, it's also one of the very few psychological thrillers we've seen. Lang once again uses some special effects to depict Mabuse's bizarre machinations. The demented Doctor, an obvious precursor to psychopaths like Hannibal Lecter, sits in his jail cell scribbling away on his notes day and night, even when he's got nothing to write with. Unlike 'M,' where the so-called villain was the most fully-formed character, in Mabuse it's the human characters that get to shine while the villain is a one-sided master of evil. Otto Wernicke, evidently reprising his role from 'M' as Inspector Lohmann, kicks serious criminal ass as the unkempt Commissioner who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of this twisted plot. Oscar Beregi plays Dr. Baum, the crazed professor who carries on Mabuse's work. We are never quite sure how conscious he is of his own villainy. Gustav Diessl is also very good, injecting a surprising romantic interest that manages to deliver some of the film's best thrills rather than detract from them. A tense scene finds him in a locked room with his girlfriend, a ticking bomb, and no chance of escape. Usually a film from this period running over too hours feels way too long, but 'Mabuse' feels just right. The ending is a little confusing, with a release of poison gas threatening the city in the background while the heroes chase down the villain. And most importantly of all, only a Fritz Lang film looks and feels like a Fritz Lang film. There's a grittiness and darkness that most Hollywood movies could only imitate.

Last film: Gabriel Over the White House (1933). Next film: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933).
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Bug-headed svengali
tone14316 April 2007
For me,this film is as watershed as Citizen Kane for technique,and it's as creepy as any horror film-much more psychologically subtle than most.Mabuse is like some Kafkaesque nihilistic infection bent on mindless yet cunningly wrought crime & carnage/world domination.The guy has somehow mastered astral projection & mind-control,but still must rely on smoke 'n mirrors,"guy behind the guy" tactics.When I proposed this one for a Friday night movie club,a couple of the young guys(25 yrs. old or so)booed the idea of a quasi-silent German film,but 2 hours later they were sold on Lang,admitting that just for sheer technique,the film was way ahead of its time.The bottom line is that talent's talent,and Fritz Lang had the goods.Maybe just one tiny peeve about Des Testament Das Dr. Mabuse-Detective Lohmann's name is barked,yowled & trumpeted so many times in the film(it's gotta be about a hundred),that you're thinking'," I guess the guy's name is Lohmann."
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great crime film, decays at last minute
dr_foreman8 September 2004
I'm usually reluctant to seek out old European movies, not because I dislike them, but because they take an enormous effort to watch for most members of my Star Wars-weaned generation. However, I found myself getting into "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" pretty quickly. I admired the film's setup. It opens with a desperate man who is hiding in a factory. The relentless droning noise of machinery drowns out almost everything else on the soundtrack; it's a decidedly unpleasant sound, but very atmospheric. Another early segment takes place in total darkness, illuminated only by a series of gunshots. All throughout, the images and sounds are similarly arresting. When I see movies that are this well-directed, I sometimes wonder how there are so many hack directors who can't equal this kind of work today, over seventy years later. I suppose talent has nothing to do with time or technology...

On a perhaps pointless side note, I can see how this film influenced American noir of the 1940s, including - perhaps especially - Batman! Mabuse, a super-criminal orchestrating dark deeds from within an insane asylum, seems like a prototype for Hugo Strange or the Joker or any number of the Dark Knight's foes (like the Joker, he believes in crime for its own sake). I can tell that these stories proliferated during the earlier days of criminal psychology, when we were more interested in understanding how deviant minds work (these days, I don't think audiences have the patience for that kind of thing!)

I feel that the real climax of this film comes when two of our protagonists, a reformed con and his lovely girlfriend, are trapped in a room with a bomb.

I won't ruin it, but suffice to say that the resolution to this situation is very ingenious indeed. Sadly, after this dramatic scene, a pointless and lingering chase segment follows. The technical mastery of the earlier segments gives way to clumsily sped-up photography and cheesy rear-screen projection. Oy! I wouldn't mind the bad SFX, but I also happen to find that the actual script falls apart as well.

Still, this is one worth catching, if only for the exceptionally strong opening and weird psychological overtones.
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