TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE
/ DVD. Eureka / Masters of Cinema
banned in Nazi Germany, it is rather obvious why. The notorious
Dr. Mabuse writes his plans for world domination from within a
lunatic asylum; clearly a satirical statement on Hitler's Mein
Kampf rantings, written during his time in prison. Joseph
Goebbels' reasoning at the time was that the film depicted an
anarchy that could be achieved far too easily, that in itself
reflecting the party's oppressive regime, whilst Fritz Lang stated
10 years later that he intended to 'show Hitler's terror methods
as in a parable'.
And yet the film was/is a fairly straightforward detective drama,
overall, the emphasis on mystery as opposed to political allegory.
Opening with the discovery of a counterfeit money operation, the
disgraced Hofmeister, in fear for his life, makes a desperate
call to his former boss, Inspector Lohmann, not quite able to
divulge full details of the conspiracy before shots are fired
and we assume his death. As Lohman begins his investigation, Professor
Baum lectures his students on his patient, Dr. Mabuse, a former
criminal mastermind who went insane after seeing ghosts of his
victims at the end of his former story, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.
Now, he spends his days obsessively writing notes, and is depicted
as harmless enough.
The story comes together rather slowly in parts, but is no less
compelling for it. Lang tells it in strands as we visit each character
to learn more about him: Hofmeister was not killed but is now
in the same asylum as Mabuse; Baum is cagey when a colleague discovers
Mabuse's notes describe crimes similar to those previously committed;
and Tom, an ex-con, cannot find work other than more crime. When
Mabuse eventually dies, the law-breaking continues and we discover
that he holds a supernatural control over his main henchman, one
scene in particular rather chilling as his apparition describes
his vision of an Empire of Crime, that thrives on fear, annihilation
and insanity. Lang would later state that he regretted this supernatural
element, however it served to highlight the extent of the character's
control, to be further interpreted as the set-in-stone mindset
What's remarkable about the film is how it does not feel dated.
Of course it has in terms of effects, but this is barely noticed,
so engrossing the story, and so very good the acting. In fact
it is a plot that even holds resonance today: some would say the
world as we know it is at risk of terrorist-like plans for dominance,
whilst the desperation of those who cannot find work is very real.
A fantastic restoration here—of the 1951 duplicate, the
original too damaged—is part of what is a superb package
from Masters of Cinema, the usual informative booklet and steelbook
a suitable tribute to a timeless film.
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