Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922) Review

Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922) Director: Fritz Lang

Dr Mabuse

★★★★☆

These early Weimar films are rife with mystery and shadowy intrigue. Dr. Mabuse is a lengthy dive into psychological depths of the time it was released (Part I lasts about 154 minutes and Part II is another 114 minutes). I may watch Part II in the future or the next time I feel ready to summit another epic silent German film, but I must say I am not exactly eager to do so. This film, no doubt, found a niche among early 20th century audiences who were growing anxious over a newly emerging wealthy elite, as well as puzzling newfangled ideas from Freud and Jung regarding the nature of the mind mind, psychoanalysis, and the unconscious.

Clocking in at over 4 and 1/2 hours in total, Fritz Lang’s ambitious project is quite an undertaking. Personally, I prefer his masterpieces as M (1931) and Metropolis (1927). Dr. Mabuse tells the story of a mad psychologist and Freudian psychoanalyst who is a master of disguises and who 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 my little summary can possibly hope to encompass, but this should suffice for my own recollection.

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There is something eerie and mercurial about Dr. Mabuse. It toys with the audience’s deepest and most conspiratorial fears, dark powers that we worry may fall into the wrong hands. The great masses of people often yearn for a grand puppet master working behind the scenes, or a secret cabal of people controlling major world affairs, like a stock market crash or the death of a famous aristocrat. Dr. Mabuse fills that dark role. His acts are set against a backdrop of German expressionist sets, and the film 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). 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).

M

M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder  Director: Fritz Lang (1931)

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★★★★★

M – “A City looks for a Murderer” is a marvelous work of cinematic genius, cementing Fritz Lang as the “master of darkness.” It was his first sound film and the screenplay was written by Mr. Lang along with his wife. Throughout his life, Mr. Lang believed M to be his masterpiece. Indeed M is a masterpiece loaded with experimental sound, and expert editing leading to a heightened experience of drama. It also leaves the audience stunned and horrified, while displaying no graphic scenes of children being murdered. As in a Greek tragedy, all the true horror occurs offstage and in the imagination of the audience.

Before shooting the film, Lang announced its controversial subject matter in a newspaper advertisement causing a heated uproar. He eventually made the film through Nero Studios, rather than UFA due to suspicions of Nazi involvement. In order to research the subject matter of M, Lang spent eight days in a mental institution and spoke with several convicted child killers -he eventually included criminals as extras on the set.

The film tells the story of a German town plagued by child killer. The police and the citizens rapidly grow desperate as six young children disappear. They begin to accuse anyone who associates with children of being the killer. It is a tale of paranoia The police decide to increase their presence in the city, forcing the crime bosses to go underground. Frustrated, they devise a plan to catch the child murderer so they may return to practicing their illicit businesses.

One man spots the killer, played by the great Peter Lorre in his first major role, with a young girl -his next victim. The man bumps into the killer and deliberately leaves a chalky imprint of the letter “M” on his jacket, for murderer. However, the audience is already well familiar with the killer by his unusual, strange shadows cast, and ominous whistling of “In the Hall of the King” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite no. 1 (actually whistled by Lang’s wife rather than Lorre who actually could not whistle).

The gang then tails him into the train station and infiltrates by taking over the entire station. They catch the murderer, and bring him back to the abandoned warehouse, where they pose a fascinating trial in which a discussion of criminality versus mental health ensues. Just as the crowds close in on the killer, the police arrive, tipped off by a lone straggler at the train station, and bring him to trial by common law. The film closes with weeping mothers lamenting the fact that the outcome of the trial will not revive their children. The closing lines are: “One has to keep closer watch over the children,” and as the screen goes black, she says, “All of you.”

M1

Metropolis (1927) Review

11/8/14

Metropolis (1927) Director: Fritz Lang

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★★★★★

Drawing upon a myriad of imagined dystopian worlds, like those found in the novels of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, Fritz Lang offers a classic of Expressionism with Metropolis. Its rich subtext is replete with Biblical allegory as well as allusions to the great science fiction writers of yesteryear. From its seed we can see the genesis of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Metropolis offers a tale of complacent oligarchs who enjoy the benefits of a stylized futuristic city, which is quietly operated below ground by a permanent underclass of exploited workers. With a range of cult-like religious customs, we are invited to consider something primal or elemental about this city, it looks more like ancient Babylon rather than a progressive utopia. Notably, the round the clock whirring machines of Metropolis have not benefitted all people, only the oligarchs. Metropolis was made during the Weimar era in Germany, an epoch which sat on the precipice, and it was made at a cost of about five million Reichsmarks, no doubt much of this funding was used to construct the absolutely towering architectural designs of this futuristic city (created by Antonio Sant’Elia). The inspiration for this city was quite obviously New York City. Watching planes and trains go whizzing by in this city is incredibly prescient for a film that was made nearly 100 years ago. In 2008, an original cut of Metropolis was discovered in a museum in Argentina and the restoration process restored about 95% of the lost film. Since then, it has been dubbed over numerous times by rock bands and composers, giving it a living score of sorts.

The film opens with a title that reads:

“The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart”

Day in and day out, workers live below the city and are busily running machines that power the massive electrical grid needed for the complacent aristocracy who dwell above ground. Every ten hours a new consortium of workers enters the Workers’ City underground to continue running the machines.

“As

deep as

lay the workers’

city below the earth,

so high above it towered

the complex named the ‘Club

of the Sons,’ with its lecture halls

and libraries, its theaters and stadiums.”

After viewing the horrors of the Workers’ City, we are brought above ground to an Edenic forest called the Eternal Gardens where men and women of the aristocracy eat well, procreate, and generally carouse with one another. They are interrupted briefly by a woman who brings her class of children above ground so the adults can see what their children look like now. She reminds them that these are their brothers, but then she is quickly ushered away so the pleasantries may continue.

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Freder, son of the President of the aristocratic city, falls in love with this woman, named Maria, and devises a plan to trade places with an underground worker so he can see what truly occurs in the Workers’ City. He travels below ground to discover that when there is a hiccup in the machine, dozens of workers must sacrifice themselves to a mechanical version of Moloch to keep the grid running –one of many Biblical allusions throughout the film. Horrified Freder trades places with one individual, and after a tireless day of work he meets the woman who preaches of Christian virtues to the workers in an underground cave.

Meanwhile, Freder’s father visits Rotwang, a mysterious German scientist who lives in an old house which has been apparently overlooked for centuries while the machines and skyscrapers arose around him. Here, he has been developing a humanoid robot to reincarnate Fredersen’s dead wife. Together, they witness Maria’s small religious gathering and decide the time is nigh, but as Freder’s powerful father leaves, Rotwang makes an ominous remark about the robot rising against Freder’s father.

End of Prelude

Intermezzo

Rotwang captures Maria and brings her back to his house as he reincarnates her as the robot, so they may share the same face. The newly reincarnated Maria dances nearly nude in front of hundreds of men and then shares the stage with his father. Freder nearly faints and imagines the apocalypse, with the statue of the Grim Reaper reaching out to him.

End of Intermezzo

Furioso

Freder partially recovers from his sickness and reads the book of Revelation. The robot who looks like Maria leads a band of workers in an uprising against the aristocratic city, contrary to the former Christian virtues espoused by the real Maria. Meanwhile, Joh Frederson breaks into Rotwang’s home and attacks him as the robot Maria wreaks havoc on the city. The new robot Maria destroys the heart of the machine and the Workers’ City begins is flooded as all the electricity in the city is all shut off.

The real Maria escapes and she rescues the children. Some of the workers gather and dance around the destruction of the machines, in a cult-like fashion. Others grab the robot Maria and build a pyre to burn her. Freder arrives, thinking it is the real Maria, and he begs them to stop -but as he does so her face burns off to reveal her robotic armor. The people stand around in shock.

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Rotwang spots the real Maria, not knowing his robot has been destroyed. He chases her up to the tower where she rings a bell and Freder comes to her rescue by casting Rotwang off the building. Freder then is celebrated as he becomes the Mediator between the Hands (the workers) and the Head (the aristocrats) via the Heart. Thus concludes this revolutionary experiment in dystopian movie-making.

Metropolis is fused with a certain Marxist dialectical relationship between upper and lower classes, as well as contrasts between man and machine, city and country, faith and scientism. The redemption found at the end of the film suggests a certain degree of hope for the future of man and machine, as well as worker and aristocrat.

Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang was born in 1890 in Austria Hungary before joining the Austrian army during World War I. He was severely injured and suffered from shll-shock whih ave him time to begin writing films while recovering.

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After the war, he moved to Germany, then the Weimar Republic, to work with UFA Studios to start a career in film. He wrote and directed several powerful and influential films in Germany includingMetropolis and M and Testament of Dr. Mabuse. He quickly rose as a prominent figure in the Expressionist movement and earned himself the nickname, “The Master of Darkness”.

With the rise of the Nazis in 1933-1934, Lang fled Germany for Paris and then to the United States where he began a twenty year career in Hollywood that produced a number of notable “film noir” movies.Though his later career was generally forgotten by critics, on his death in 1976 in Los Angeles, he began to be regarded as one of the great early directors of cinema.

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