TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, THE (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse)(director/writer: Fritz Lang; screenwriter: Thea von Harbou/from a Norbert Jacques novel; cinematographer: Fritz Arno Wagner; cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Dr. Mabuse), Otto Wernicke (Commissioner Karl Lohmann), Gustav Diessl (Kent), Oscar Beregi, Sr. (Prof. Doctor Baum), Vera Liessem (Lili), Karl Meixner (Hofmeister), Camilla Spira (Anna), Theodor Loos (Dr. Kramm), Rudolf Schuendler (Hardy), Klaus Pohl (Muller); Runtime: 120; Nero/Janus Films; 1933-Ger.)
“Lang used Mabuse as a symbol for corruption and decadence in Germany’s Weimar Republic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The sequel of Fritz Lang’s popular silent movie made a decade earlier on the criminally insane gambler, Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). It is adapted from the novel by Norbert Jacques. Mabuse has escaped incarceration by being placed in a mental institution under the charge of the asylum’s director, Dr. Baum (Oscar Beregi, Sr.). The doctor has built his reputation studying the mad criminal genius and by his use of hypnosis. He gives criminal behavior lectures at the university. But Mabuse’s aim is to rule the world and he uses his hypnotic powers to control Baum without him being aware of it.
Lang used Mabuse as a symbol for corruption and decadence in Germany’s Weimar Republic. The parallel is drawn to the menace of Nazism. Mabuse utters Nazi messages of hate from the asylum prison much like Hitler did when imprisoned, brainwashing a band of criminals to carry out his plans of mass destruction. Mabuse gets thugs to blow up chemical plants, rob banks, and commit acts of brutality. Goebbels made the director change the last reel. He then offered him a position as head of the film industry in Nazi Germany (supposedly to make propaganda films). Lang opted to leave in a hurry overnight, going to Paris and soon to Hollywood. His screenwriter wife, Thea von Harbou, chose to join the Nazi party and remain in Germany.
Inspector Lohman (Otto Wernicke), the very popular and respected lawman, who is comfortably overweight and loves to smoke cigars, is drawn into the case when he receives a call from Hofmeister (Karl Meixner), a policeman dismissed for taking a bribe. He tells the inspector that he found a gang of bank forgers. But while still on the phone, Hofmeister is being attacked. Before he disappears, he scratches the name Mabuse on the window pane. This is the same Lohman from Lang’s 1932 M, who chased Peter Lorre down.
The film was well-crafted, perfectly photographed in B&W, and it maintained a breezy pace. There was comedy, which came at the expense of Lohman. In one scene Lohman loses his hat during a car chase. He felt disgruntled that he received an emergency call that makes him late for the opera, and is befuddled as he scratches himself wondering why Dr. Kramm (Loos) was killed in heavy traffic.
A romance takes place between one of Mabuse’s henchmen, Kent (Gustav Diessl), who fell for Lily (Vera Liessem). She lent him money when he got out of prison after serving over four years for murdering his sweetheart and his best friend. He tried to get an honest job but couldn’t and now tells her he is a thief. She talks him out of staying in the criminal ring, but the two are taken by force to the secret criminal headquarters and are locked in a room and told they will die in three hours for his refusal to follow an order to rob a bank and replace the stolen money with forgeries. They are not told how they will die, but they hear a loud ticking sound.
The chief mastermind, who no one sees, orders his henchmen to follow his commands by using a record player and placing it in a room no one can enter. When Mabuse dies, Dr. Kramm finds the brilliant criminal testament of Dr. Mabuse on the floor and compares a news report of a jewelry robbery to what he is now reading. He tells Baum that he is going to report it to the police, but is killed by Mabuse’s elite Section 2B hitmen on orders from the unseen leader.
Mabuse, though dead, nevertheless, has hypnotized Baum so that he now thinks he’s Mabuse; and, the criminal ring continues undeterred. There are even ghosts seen walking around (they represent the dead from the previous war who seek vengeance). The movie is both brilliant hokum and politically sublime. The mystery story was influenced by those American serials, which were very popular at the time.
REVIEWED ON 2/19/2001 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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