Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler - Ein Bild der Zeit) (Dr. Mabuse, King of Crime) Reviews
The film's familiar "supervillain" plot is still a fixture of Hollywood cinema. Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is a psychoanalyst whose mystical powers of mesmerism allow him to control people. This makes him a terror at baccarat, where his glaring eyes compel opponents to make losing choices. He is also a master of disguise (the film's most reliable source of fun), and thus pulls off all sorts of devilish tricks without anyone realizing they're the work of a single person. His crimes are not limited to gambling, and eventually span counterfeiting, rioting, commodities fraud and murder.
However, a crafty state attorney named Von Wenk (Bernard Goetzke) finally notices the pattern, and becomes the first authority to pose a serious threat to Mabuse's underworld reign. The battle of wits between these formidable adversaries is the story's core.
The film's daunting length is mostly due to all the extended caper sequences. The first two schemes alone span the opening 40 minutes. Subplots with two alluring women -- an exotic dancer who's an accomplice to Mabuse, and a countess who ducks Mabuse's romantic advances and helps out Von Wenk -- also chew up plenty of time. The fate of the countess's vulnerable husband becomes another important element, depicted in detail.
Where "Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler" falls short of other Lang classics is its visual imagery. Outside of one secret casino (a performance stage can lower over a retractable dealer's table at a moment's notice), the dazzling sets of films like "Metropolis" and "Die Nibelungen" are in short supply. There are a few notable effects and props -- hypnotic words superimposed over the action, a shot of Mabuse's "floating" head, a couple of laughably phallic costumes from a burlesque show, one multi-image segment with avenging ghosts -- but most scenes take place in everyday room interiors. Still, Klein-Rogge's bulging eyes are practically a special effect on their own.
Normally, films of such length are epics with huge sets, big battles and vast landscape shots.
Dr. Mabuse is essentially a character study.
This is by far the most elaborate silent film I've seen so far - with many many intertitles to develop the characters and the plot. And it definitely needs its time to fully treat its subject.
Klein-Rogge stands out as the eponymous villain, his masks and disguises are as impressive as his acting. He is amazing and he needs to be if you take into account how much the film depends on his character.
Lang was again ahead of his time (like in every genre he has worked) - it's groundbreaking and influenced psychological thrillers and character studies for years to come.
Mabuse is a notorious gambler. He plays with human beings and fates. His addiction is most prominently depicted in two scenes with the two ladies (Cara Carozza and Gršfin Told) of the movie who both point out that his gambling will create repercussions someday.
Also impressive is the way Lang lets his protagonist get away with his crimes over and over again - he's the bad guy but for about 4 hours it looks like he'll succeed. Evil has the upper hand for a good part of the film which is remarkable for a film of this period.
Mabuse counterfeits, creates havoc at the stock market and consequently ruins the economy and his ability to control the minds of others is Lang's response to the main problems and fears of post-war Germany.
Of course it's long and you need some dedication to endure it but it's also quite sophisticated (especially for a silent) and it needs its time to develop and there are merely any meaningless scenes.
Fritz Lang yet again shows that he's a master of dramaturgy, symbols and storytelling.