DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Bernhard Goetzke, Paul Richter, Gertrude Welcker, Aud
Director: Fritz Lang
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
Features: Commentary Track
Length: 229 Minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2001
Lang was an experimenter who dabbled in virtually every film genre conceivable
during a long and distinguished career that began in the silent era.
In the late teens and early twenties, his filmography included such
pictures as the dreamy and expressive Destiny and the for-thrills-only
jungle adventure serial Spiders. When
he made Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, he was still a few years away from his
most noted achievement, the expressionistic sci-fi film Metropolis which
detailed the struggle between the haves and have-nots.
With Mabuse, however, he constructed a film of such political
topography that it’s impossible today to separate the movie from the period in
history that bore it.
was a median year between Germany’s defeat and humiliation in World War I to
the coming of the Nationalist Socialist party and Adolph Hitler.
The economy was terrible…one American dollar was equal to over 4
trillion German marks at the time. But
as in all societies, only the lower classes were bearing the brunt of the
misery. Lang saw a world in which
the rich aristocrat still enjoyed his leisurely existence, and he found a kind
of immorality in the popularity of illegal gambling halls where the well-to-do
would spend hours and fortunes gaming their lives away, while the poor struggled
with runaway inflation and impossible economic odds.
the novel by Norbert Jacques, Lang found just the anti-hero he needed to comment
on his times: the evil Dr. Mabuse
(Klein-Rogge). Mabuse was a master
of disguise, a brilliant criminal mind, and possessed the gift of mind control
over some of his weaker subjects. He
was not a behind-the-boards operator of a criminal empire, but rather, enjoyed
venturing out and making his plans work himself, taking an active interest in
both the soaking of the rich and the manipulation of the German economy.
one of the earliest segments, we see him arrange a run on the stock market by a
clever ruse. What is established is
clear: economies can rise and collapse at the whim of this man.
He was never characterized any other way than as a villain, but it’s
easy to see why some of the German working class took to Dr. Mabuse.
dons disguises and enters into gambling halls, picks out a victim, then
manipulates him out of his money. One
such victim is Edgar Hull (Richter), typical of the blasé, self-centered and
somewhat stupid aristocrat of the time. Mabuse
challenges him, uses his hypnotic ability to make him play badly, and ends up
with a rather larger promissory note from Hull.
nemesis of Mabuse is Inspector von Wenk (Goetzke), who had made it a personal
goal to bring down the illegal gambling halls, but becoming aware of a “great
unknown” (ie, Mabuse), decides he must temporarily protect the rich playboys
and playgirls in an attempt to root him out.
In one of the film’s best sequences, Mabuse and von Wenk, both in
disguise, play each other at cards, as Mabuse tries and fails to manipulate von
Wenk. It’s Mabuse’s first
indication that he may not be as infallible in his game as he thought.
addition to economic commentary, the film is filled with imagery of a society
gone morally bankrupt. Exotic
dancers entertain the rich gatherings, there are signs of drug use and
prostitution, and even one notable character, the Countess Told (Welcker), who
shows up at the games not to play, but because she enjoys watching the faces of
those who lose. It’s this kind of
rampant enjoyment at the misery of others that makes it possible for a man like
Mabuse to not only exist, but thrive.
Entertainment should be commended in bringing to home video the most complete
version of Dr. Mabuse yet known. The
original German running time was 270 minutes, but years of truncating and loss
of footage had brought it as far down as 90 minutes.
Image’s version runs at 229 minutes, and seems to serve Lang’s
original vision as much as can possibly be done.
The film is divided over two discs; as the original Dr. Mabuse was
considered a single film but one that could easily be shown over two evenings,
home viewers have the option of how they would like to enjoy the movie.
picture is an intense, dark drama with expressionistic hints of light and
shadow, but beyond its face value, serves as a valuable social and cultural
commentary of a time gone by, and a history lesson about the potential
consequences of driving a people to economic despair.
a nearly 80 year old movie, Dr. Mabuse looks quite decent, though not
without its share of expected problems. As
with all films from the silent era, it suffers from lack of proper preservation.
Spots, scratches and debris are in evidence, as well as some occasional
flicker and softer images. Blacks
and whites don’t always play off of each other as they should; there is some
bleeding and some loss of definition (though these are all print issues, not
transfer ones). As mentioned, Image
has presented the most fully restored version of this film in quite some time,
so frankly, the normal wear and tear of aging is more than acceptable in my
audio track is perfectly fine, if not spectacular, and features a lively stereo
recording of an orchestral score conducted by Robert Israel, which is cleanly
rendered and an enjoyable accompaniment to the picture.
disc’s sole feature is a good one…a running commentary by Lang student and
biographer David Kalat. Not only is
he extremely knowledgeable about the film, its director and its background, he
speaks with an enthusiastic style, and is even relaxed enough for some
occasional humor. It’s an
extremely informative and pleasant listen.