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).

Swing Time (1936) Review

Swing Time (1936) Director: George Stevens


Swing Time is a wonderful film, and may be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s finest movie. Together they made ten Hollywood films, and nine of which were musicals for RKO. Six of them were the top money-makers for RKO. As Katherine Hepburn once said, “He gives her class, and she gives him sex appeal.” Fred Astaire has been called the most influential dancer ever to grace Hollywood. While he remained a force and a legend on Broadway and in other musicals, later with MGM post Ginger Rogers, Astaire would never reclaim the heights of his fame and success during his time in the early Golden Years of Hollywood of the 1930s.

There is no greater example of the elegance and beauty of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie than Swing Time. It is regularly ranked among their top films, along with Top Hat. The film was a hit, but marked a turning point for the Astaire/Rogers duo, as their films started to decline at the box office, never reaching their astronomical heights again. It was the sixth of their ten films together.

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It tells the story of John, or “Lucky”, who is a habitual gambler and dancer. In the beginning he attempts to court a woman named Margaret, however he shows up late to his own wedding only to meet her disapproving father. Her father will only be impressed if he makes some money – $25,000. Thus, Lucky and his bumbling but funny friend “Pop” head to New York City where they become entangled with Penny, via the dance studio where she works. Reluctantly, at first, Penny starts dancing with Lucky and they start auditioning their duet number, which leads Lucky back into gambling for their audition, as the band leader is in love with Penny and refuses to play for Lucky and Penny. He eventually wins the band leader’s contract, and they dazzle the crowd with their performance. The two start an innocent romance, which is paused when she finds out about his prior engagement plans, but in the end Lucky wins her back and they get married. Thus concludes the film.

Ginger Rogers had a successful career in Vaudeville and on Broadway before venturing into film. She was a supporting actress in 42nd Street. Her career took off when RKO paired her with Fred Astaire, the high class but unusually balding dancer. After the Astaire/Rogers films started to decline commercially, she starred in Kitty Foyle (1940) and won Best Actress for her performance. She was a lifelong conservative Republican, and a staunch and public opponent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was an only child, and remained close with her mother all her life, and she married five times, all of them ending in divorce. She was a Christian Scientist, and despite her stroke and paralysis in later years, she never went to a hospital or saw a doctor. She died of a heart attack in 1995. In 1998 at the Democratic National Convention it was announced that (paraphrased): ‘Fred Astaire was good, but remember that Ginger Rogers did all those dance routines, too, backwards and in high heels.’

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Astaire was an impressive man, known for his elegantly choreographed dance routines, and his perfection of the craft. He was a conservative lifelong Republican, though he rarely discussed politics. Like Bing Crosby and Ginger Rogers, Astaire was a founding member of the Hollywood Republican Committee. He was a churchgoer, military supporter, and was dismissive of the increasing graphic sensuality in films of the 1970s. He, along with Cary Grant, was known for being impeccably dressed  for every occasion. Personally, he married the daughter of a New York socialite family, Phyllis Potter, in 1933, despite his mother’s and sister’s objections. However, Phyllis’s death from lung cancer at age 46 devastated him. He was a golfer and a horse-breeder. It wasn’t until the age of 81, in 1980, that Astaire remarried Robyn Smith, a jockey 45 years his junior. He died in 1987 of pneumonia, and his last words were reportedly: “I didn’t want to leave this world without knowing who my descendant was, thank you, Michael”- in reference to Michael Jackson. His life was never portrayed on film, despite numerous offers to do so, and his will has a clause prohibiting any such portrayal.

While the plot leaves some things to be desired, and has a dated and unfortunate scene of blackface, Swing Time is nevertheless a marvelous and joyous film filled with wonderful song and dance routines, such as the famous “The Way You Look Tonight” by Jerome King – including a famous scene of Astaire singing the song alone at a piano, which one the film’s sole Oscar. Remarkably, the meticulous dance scenes were shot with only one or two stationary cameras, and very few, if any, cut scenes, leaving the magic of the cinema solely up to the dancers to perform. Swing Time is one of the greatest films, and my favorite of the Astaire/Rogers era.