An Interesting & Occasionally Fascinating Epic
By a customer
, 30 Sep 2004
Fritz Lang's epic story of 'Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler' is always interesting, and at times fascinating. Lang obviously enjoyed filming this kind of material, and he adds numerous imaginative touches to it. Lang's distinctive approach and Rudolf Klein-Rogge's portrayal of Mabuse give it some lasting images to go with the involved story.
Movies about master criminals are hardly rare, and even the more popular movies of the genre are generally shallow and over-praised. In some respects, the story of Dr. Mabuse is similar to most: he has an extensive bag of tricks that he uses to pull off his schemes, and the movie often holds your attention simply by making you guess what he is planning to do next. But there is more psychological depth to the Mabuse story than there is to most such movies, and this is complemented by the distinctive array of settings and the overall portrayal of society, which at times suggest themes that go well beyond the personal battle between Mabuse and the law.
While quite entertaining, this is not a truly great movie, because on the whole it just does not have that much to say. It is all too easy for film-makers to depict a decadent, morally-neutral society in a way that seems more profound than it really is. Lang is still markedly superior to the present-day film-makers who try to create Mabuse-style characters and stories, which is why this has enough substance to have held up pretty well over the years. As entertainment, 'Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler' compares well with almost anything of its kind, and is as good as any of Lang's own films.
As a work of art, though, even in Lang's own filmography it has to take a back seat to 'Metropolis' and other more profound works.
Made 9 years before 'M' and 3 before 'Metropolis', Fritz Lang's true masterpiece about a Gambler Dr Mabuse who tries to possess a gambler's mind, enter a romantic french dancer, her brother named Richard Fleury, yes, Fleury. It was the first ever film to recieve the UK certificate '18', Fritz Lang's film though is no more shocking than 'M' in which the main character is a mentally ill child molester! Anyway, back to the point, Mabuse is a stroke of genius, worth watching, whoever you are!
What separates film noir from the standard crime or gangster film? Psychology. Where the common criminal is simply interested in money, the film noir villain has a profound understanding of human nature and enjoys playing with the lives of others as much for pleasure as for gain.
The year is 1922. The place is post WW I Germany. It was a time of inflation so great and so accelerated that a loaf of bread costing a mere 20 thousand marks in the morning could be priced at 5 million marks by evening. Restaurant prices skyrocketed while diners were eating. Businesses paid their workers twice a day so their money would have some buying power. By November of 1923, it took 4.2 trillion German marks to buy a single American dollar. Moral chaos ensued.
To set the amoral mood of DR. MABUSE, people are shown climbing the ladder of success by exploiting the vices of others. But no value judgments are made. We see only that vice is profitable, not that it is wrong or right. The economic instability of the period gives rise to extraordinary moral decadence: a dancer performs a stage show with blatant sexual imagery; drug addicts are everyday characters, and prostitute children are openly soliciting in the streets. It's indicative of this film's milieu that even the good characters are allowed to enjoy Schadenfreude-----------pleasure at the misfortunes of others. The Countess Tolst, for instance, enjoys watching the faces of gamblers when they lose at cards------suggesting that even angels can become devils when they live in the hell of social chaos.
The German people of 1922 needed a savior to believe in. But he didn't have to have wings and a halo. He could be a criminal mastermind. Dr. Mabuse is such a man. He has no compassion, no mercy, no friends------------no equals-------only servants. He's professor Moriarty and the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu rolled into one. He isn't simply a mastermind who sits in a sterile room directing his criminal activities; he's also a master of disguise who enjoys becoming a different person to commit his crimes. His cohorts are so dedicated to him that they willingly sacrifice their lives--------some by suicide----------so that he can continue his great work. He is convinced of his mental and psychic gifts and lesser humans are only toys for the various games he plays. But like a child, he's unaware that any harm can come to him and is unprepared for police commissioner Von Wenk to be as ruthless and as merciless as he is.
The film is filled with noir moments: One of the crisises of the film comes during the card game between Mabuse and Commissioner Von Wenk, when both men are heavily disguised. Mabuse tries to psychically overpower Wenk's mind and in a highly cinematic noir moment, the room totally darkens, obscuring everyone but them to emphasize the contest of wills. Another highly symbolic noir moment comes when Count Tolst-------who is socially disgraced because Mabuse hypnotized him into cheating at cards------------walks from the shadows, a defeated man, toward Mabuse, standing in a bright beam of light, symbolic of the German people's yearning for a savior. Still another is when Countess Tolst pretends to be arrested and is thrown into the same prison cell as Cara Carrozza, to get information on the man Von Wenk calls 'The Great Unknown.' Cara tells her of Mabuse's greatness and of her love for him, causing the Countess to admire her for protecting the man she loves. The noir moment comes when Cara sits alone in her cell---------wondering if Mabuse has betrayed her-----------the shadow of the prison bars shine on her face and we realize she is not only in a physical prison, but an emotional prison of Mabuse's making.
It's not difficult to see DR. MABUSE as the first film noir, and one of the finest films of the German silent period. Definitely a film of its time, it could have predicted the rise of Adolph Hitler had anyone been paying attention.
The message of the film is that theft and murder in pursuit of a great cause are permissible, but that cheating is dishonorable and will be punished by fate. Mabuse is a gambler who played with life. He lost because he committed a gambler's only sin. He cheated, and his punishment is to be haunted by the ghosts of his own misdeeds.
Originally, a two part film running nearly three and a half hours, but mostly seen in a highly edited version of half that length. It's a film every student of cinema should see, especially if you enjoy film noir.
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