Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922) Director: Fritz Lang
Dr. Mabuse is an excellent film, despite its incredible length (Part I lasts about 154 minutes and Part II is another 114 minutes). This reviewer may watch Part II in the future or the next time I feel ready to summit another silent epic German film, but I must say I am not exactly eager to do so. The film, no doubt, found a niche among early 20th century audiences who grew fearful of the new wealthy elite, and newfangled ideas from Freud and Jung about the nature mind, psychoanalysis, and the unconscious.
Clocking in at over 4 and 1/2 hours in total, this silent film is masterfully produced. Dr. Mabuse was directed by the famous German director, Fritz Lang – who also directed such masterpieces as M and Metropolis. In German, the film was titled Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (note the word “spieler” can mean refer to either a gambler, puppeteer, or an actor). In many ways, the character Dr. Mabuse represents each of these translations of “spieler.”
Dr. Mabuse tells the story of a mad psychologist and Freudian psychoanalyst who is a master of disguises and has acquired the art of hypnosis and mind control. Throughout Part I (over 2 hours long), Dr. Mabuse engineers the downfall of the stock market so he can secure vast personal profits, and he spends his time in the seedy gambling dens of Germany using his powers to win card games. His main goal is to steal money. At one point, a state prosecutor suspects Dr. Mabuse of foul play, but the prosecutor is gassed and cast adrift alone in a boat. Dr. Mabuse hypnotizes a countess and casts a spell over her husband, shortly before he abducts the countess. Admittedly, this reviewer did not summit the full 4 1/2+ hour film, and just watched Part I, but I hope to watch the remaining 2+ hours of the film another time. Upon further review, in Part II, Dr. Mabuse has some of his henchmen killed, he has the countess’s husband commit suicide, and in disguise, he hypnotizes the state prosecutor so that he hurls himself off a cliff, however the prosecutor is rescued at the last moment and he orders an investigation into Dr. Mabuse. In the end, Dr. Mabuse escapes and accidentally locks himself in a room where he is haunted by his victims. He goes insane and he is eventually taken away by the police. The story is far more complex and multifaceted, beyond what this little summary can possibly hope to encompass, but this should suffice for my own recollection.
The film is eerie and mercurial. It plays on the audience’s deepest and most conspiratorial fears of a suspension of the natural world, a power that may fall into the wrong hands. The great masses of people often yearn for a grand puppet master working behind the scenes, controlling major world affairs, like a stock market crash or the death of a famous aristocrat. Dr. Mabuse fills that dark role. The film is set against a backdrop of German expressionist sets, and it was released during the rise of the new psychology movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (i.e. Jung and Freud, and others). The cinematography is remarkably sharp and concise. Several sequels were later made by Fritz Lang and his wife: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960).