Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922) Director: Fritz Lang
Clocking in at over 4 and 1/2 hours, 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 either a gambler, puppeteer, or an actor). In many ways, Dr. Mabuse represents each of these translations of “spieler”.
The film tells the story of a mad psychologist and Freudian psychoanalyst, Dr. Mabuse. He is a master of disguises and has mastered the arts of hypnosis and mind control. Throughout Part I (over 2 hours long), Dr. Mabuse engineers the downfall of the stock market so he can profit and spends time in the lower gambling dens in Germany using his powers to win card games, and therefore a lot of money. At one point, a state prosecutor suspects Dr. Mabuse of foul play, but he is gassed and cast adrift alone in a boat. Dr. Mabuse hypnotizes a countess and casts a spell over her husband, as well, 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 look forward to watching 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 to hurl himself off a cliff, however he is rescued at the last moment and orders an investigation of 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 is eventually taken away by the police. The story is far more complex and multifaceted than this little summary.
The film is eery and mercurial. It plays on the audiences deepest and most conspiratorial fears of a suspension of the natural world, a power that could fall into the hands of an evil person. The masses long for a grand puppet master working behind the scenes of major affairs, like a stock market crash or the death of a famous aristocrat. The film is set against a backdrop of German expressionist sets, and was released during the rise of the psychology movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (i.e. Jung and Freud, and others). The cinematography is remarkably sharp and clear. Several sequels were later made by Lang and his wife: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960).
Dr. Mabuse is an excellent film, despite its incredible length. It is odd, but haunting and mysterious. This reviewer looks forward to watching Part II in the future.