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