Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922) Fritz Lang
Masters of Cinema Blu-ray (UK)
As is the case with many film bloggers, I have no real credentials to review any movie with any degree of authority or expertise. I just love films (and comics, which is the other side of my blog. I’m no expert in that area, either.) and love writing about them. Having said that, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler is certainly a film that I have no business reviewing; I just want to tell you what I love about it and hope you’ll want to see it as well.
Years ago I bought the Criterion DVD edition of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) on a whim at a Barnes & Noble sale, mainly because I’d enjoyed several other Fritz Lang films and thought, why not?
I was mesmerized from the opening scene of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as an extremely nervous man attempts to hide behind an enormously loud printing press. Soon we learn about a mysterious man (or madman) named Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind who uses mind-control and hypnotism. I was hooked.
In Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, Lang introduces the criminal genius Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) as he peruses various photographs, determining which disguise he’ll use next. We see Mabuse’s extraordinary powers of mind-control and hypnotism as he manipulates people on a small scale (mostly through gambling) and institutions – like the Berlin stock market – on a large scale. We’re not really sure early on if this is being done for some grand scheme or simply because he can.
State prosecutor von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke, far right) knows something is going on in the city, but has very few clues. Von Wenk decides to adopt a disguise himself and infiltrate one of the underworld gambling dens, hoping to find out something useful about this master criminal.
What I’ve told you is the main story of Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. What I haven’t told you is that the film contains many subplots and a whole host of characters that are nothing short of mesmerizing. (Mabuse’s henchmen alone deserve their own feature film.) Lang creates a criminal underworld that somehow melds the otherworldliness of German Expressionism found in films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with the decadence of Weimar Germany. Although the film runs over four hours (in two parts), it moves quickly, never lagging. The Masters of Cinema edition offers an excellent restoration including a musical score for a chamber group (piano, violin, xylophone) by Aijoscha Zimmermann. I only listened to a few minutes of the audio commentary by film scholar David Kalat, but I’ll definitely return to it soon.
If you’re new to silent films, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler is probably not a good place to start (I think the short comedies of Chaplin, Keaton and/or Lloyd are probably best for that), but for those who have seen a few silents, I think you’ll be amazed at what you see. If you enjoy it, you’ll want to also see The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and Lang’s final film, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960).
(The Masters of Cinema edition clocks in at four-and-a-half hours [and is Region B locked; you’ll need a region-free Blu-ray player if you’re in the U.S.]. The Kino DVD is just over four hours and the Amazon streaming edition is under three hours.)