DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (Fritz Lang, 1922, Germany, 270m, BW)
Cast: Gertrude Welcker, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede Nissen, Alfred Abel, Bernhard Goetzke, Auguste Prasch-grevenberg, Paul Richter, Charles Puffy, Gottfried Huppertz, Lydia Potechina, Erich Pabst, Heinrich Gotho, Leonhard Haskel, Edgar Pauly, Grete Berger, Gustav Botz, Georg John, Hans Sternberg, Erich Walter, Max Adalbert, Paul Biensfeldt, Willy Schmidt-genter, Robert Forster-Larrinaga, Olaf Storm, Julius Falkenstein, Adolf Klein, Julie Brandt, Karl Platen, Anita Berber, Julius E. Hermann
Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Fritz Lang, Norbert Jacques
Running Time: 195 min.
This silent film, based on the pulp novel by Norbert Jacques, follows the devious schemes of criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Using disguises and hypnosis, as well as an assortment of henchmen, Mabuse begins to amass a fortune, with gambling and murder factoring heavily into his plans. Though the villain is careful to cover his tracks, a resourceful police inspector (Bernhard Goetzke) remains determined to put Mabuse behind bars.
For the script of Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, Ein Bild der Zeit (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, 1922), Lang collaborated with his wife, Thea von Harbou. Despite the fantastical nature of this spy yarn, Lang isisted then, and so did Berlin critics, that the film was a document about the current world. Mabuse, like Caligari – an unscrupulous master mind, heads a gang of killers and criminals, all of whom he has u nder his power by hypnosis. Mabuse successfully evades identification by impersonating a psychiatrist, a drunken sailor, and a financial magnate. When Mabuse is finally apprehended by the forces of Virtue, he goes mad. The obvious parallel in this film to the Nazi criminality h as been frequently overemphasized, but the plot does suggest a kind of sociological milieu given to extremes. At least the plot does show how closely tyranny and chaos are interrelated. Unfortunately, however, it, like many other German films of this times, seems to present either demonic tyranny or chaos as the nly two possibilities.
Lang’s skill in the use of lighting and his concern for detail and authenticity are apparent from the first sequences. An example is the attack of the man bearing the contract in the train. On three occasions three characters consult their watches in three different places. Step by step, the intrigue moves forward, and the editing emphasized the quasi-simultaneity of the actions. As a young man, Sergei Eisenstein was so dazzled by the editing in this film that he obtain a copy of it for his own analysis. Lang used Expressionism as a tool for his own creation of moods. In many ways he prefigured Hitchcock with his comic touches, his ability to introduce characters with a few deft strokes, and his overall flair for the “thriller”.
It is four and a half hours long and divided into two parts, originally released a month apart: Der große Spieler: Ein Bild der Zeit and Inferno: Ein Spiel von Menschen unserer Zeit. The title, Dr. Mabuse der Spieler, makes use of three meanings of the German Der Spieler which can mean gambler, puppeteer, or actor. The character Dr. Mabuse, who disguises himself, manipulates people, and is a notorious gambler, embodies all senses of the word. Therefore, the Player might be a more appropriate translation of the title. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (German: Dr. Mabuse der Spieler) is the first film in the Dr. Mabuse series, about the character Doctor Mabuse who featured in the novels of Norbert Jacques. It was directed by Fritz Lang and released in 1922. The film is silent and would be followed by the sound sequels The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960).
The full length print of this movie runs almost four and a half hours, from what I hear; my version runs one hour and forty-five minutes. I don't know whether I've got an edited version of the whole feature or whether it's just one of the two features that it was broken into at one point. At any rate, I'm fairly confident I'm missing quite a bit, so I'll refrain from coming to any conclusions until I've had a chance to get a complete copy of the movie and watch it in its entirety, but from what I've been able to tell, it's fairly fascinating. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is great as Mabuse, and what is fascinating is that he ends up exhibiting more human values than you would expect. According to one source, what the shorter versions are missing are some of the depictions of social conditions in Germany at the time, which I believe would make some fascinating viewing indeed. Chalk this one up as a movie that I will revisit some time in the future.
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