The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
March 27, 2020 6:03 AM - Subscribe

The movie is a sequel to Lang's silent film Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and features many cast and crew members from Lang's previous films. The film features Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr. Mabuse who is in an insane asylum where he is found frantically writing his crime plans. When Mabuse's criminal plans begin to be implemented, Inspector Lohmann (played by Otto Wernicke) tries to find the solution with clues from gangster Thomas Kent (Gustav Diessl), the institutionalized Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) and Professor Baum (Oscar Beregi Sr.) who becomes obsessed with Dr. Mabuse.

Michael Koller (Senses of Cinema): "Fritz Lang was a notoriously unreliable commentator on his own life. Lang’s most famous story, probably because he so frequently retold it, involved him being summoned by Goebbels to the Ministry of Propaganda one night, early in 1933 after the banning of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, to be offered the position as the Führer of film at the new agency supervising motion-picture production in the Third Reich. It was at this moment that Lang realised he had to flee Germany, and at the completion of his meeting with Goebbels, the director made a midnight dash from Berlin to Paris by train.

There are many inconsistencies in Lang’s various retellings of this story and the surrounding facts and accounts don’t support Lang’s version(s) of events (2). Many artists and intellectuals left Berlin immediately after the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933, yet, for several months after this date Lang gave credibility to the Nazis by attending official film functions organised by the Nazi Party hierarchy (3). More and more it appears that the sycophantic Lang courted those in power (in both Germany and America) to maintain his position. It is quite possible that Lang’s insecurity fed into the fearful, paranoiac visions of ordinary men who transgress the values of a conservative society found in his film noirs and in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

Siegfried Kracauer, in his history of German cinema, easily saw portents of Hitler’s rise in virtually every German film (4). Hindsight makes it is easy to mould Testament, the tale of an insane leader who incites his minions to inflict meaningless acts of terror on the general populace so as to destabilise society, into a rabid anti-Nazi work, yet an equally opportunistic reading of the film could comfortably see it as a prescient work supporting Bush’s War on Terror."

Tom Gunning (Criterion): "A nightmare vision of a modern world gone mad, of the effect of terror on society, a final tribute to the Expressionistic German cinema, an early example of the unique effect of film sound, and a powerful detective thriller, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse remains one of Fritz Lang’s most complex films."

Douglas Buck (Offscreen): "While the plot seems simple on the surface, in typical Lang/Mabuse fashion, it’s entirely labyrinthine when inspected closely, with many of the narrative elements just not quite adding up… however, these inconsistencies don’t play out as mistakes, but instead deepen the paranoid perspective of unknowability, reinforcing the sense of all-pervading unbeatable evil hovering over both these Mabuse films; yes, the police may catch up to Mabuse (or his sheep doctor disciple, in the sequel) and capture him/them (in both cases, not really because of any of the police investigation work, but because of the utter nihilistic lunacy of their intentions finally driving them over the brink into sheer madness – reminding me yet again, with things such as the bravura camera angles and the clearly fevered commitment by the director in achieving some of these incredible shots – of the links I see between Lang’s early great German films and much later genre legend Dario Argento’s oft-masterful and cinematically breathtaking gialli from the late 60’s and early 70’s in which the police procedural is often foregrounded to equally little success), but they’ll never really have a rational explanation for all that’s occurred. The pervasive sense of doom Lang creates is too thick to allow that (and, man, do Lang’s characters feel it – and not just the ones in the Mabuse world… you can include his fantasy films like Die Nibelungen, as Lang has to be up there as far as the number of suicides he’s created on-screen…. and it’s not just the German ones! Just look at that, again, Argento-like suicide at the beginning of what has been argued as his greatest American achievement, the 1954 noir The Big Heat, in which he basically puts us into the position of the officer committing suicide, raising the gun to our own temple to pull the trigger… yep, you could say there was a dark soul lingering inside that Mr Lang)."

Fritz Lang's use of sound in M and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

Full film on YouTube.
posted by sapagan (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'll never forget being in France and stumbling on "Dr. Mabuse the Gambler" on my motel TV with French and German subtitles. I had no idea what this amazing movie could possibly be. Luckily my French was good enough to follow it, and when I got home I watched all the Mabuse movies. I like Gambler the best, but would recommend both this and "The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse" (1960). I spent one summer watching all the Lang movies available on Netflix and there was nothing I regret seeing.
posted by acrasis at 3:12 PM on March 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Feels like it was shot next week.
posted by jettloe at 5:28 PM on March 30, 2020

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