Thursday, September 7, 2017
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler
Berlin. Dr. Mabuse is a seemingly respectful doctor of psychology, but in reality he is secretly a criminal boss who wants to rule the underground. His henchmen steal a secret Swiss-Dutch contract from a train, which Mabuse uses to gain a fortune on the stock market. He also uses hypnosis to persuade a rich man, Hull, to lose a poker game and give him a lot of money. State prosecutor von Wenk suspects that all these crimes can be tracked down to one criminal, but he doesn't even know his name. Mabuse orders dances Carozza to seduce Hull in order to spy on the rich man. When Hull is killed in a casino, Carozza is arrested, but poisoned by Mabuse who fears she might reveal his name. Von Wenk manages to capture a henchman, Pesch, who placed a bomb in his office, but Pesch is killed by a sniper. Mabuse falls in love and kidnaps Countess Told, but she rejects him. Finally, the police starts a raid of Mabuse's mansion. They finally arrest him when he loses his mind from visions of the people he killed.
Widely considered to be Fritz Lang's breakthrough film as a director, silent crime movie "Dr. Mabuse the Gambler" is still a notch bellow all the hype that surrounds it: for a running time of over 4 hours, it is decisively too long, and the 'cat-and-mouse' story doesn't pick up until the third hour. It is without doubt a fine, quality film with an elegant narration and clear storytelling, yet the longer a film gets, the more ingenuity it needs to invest for the viewers not to quit the screening—for such extra long time it demands, a movie needs to grow exponentially in quality to cover for it, and "Dr. Mabuse" somehow lacks highlights for such a megalomaniac task. Lang's visual style is not quite as grand or innovative as it was in his finest classics, including "M" or "Nibelungen: Siegfried", yet the story flows smoothly, with remarkable elegance, despite the pacing issues. Two sequences are truly excellent and show Lang in his true glory as a filmmaker: one is when state prosecutor Wenk and criminal Dr. Mabuse meet for the first time, both in disguise, both unaware of each other's identity, in a secret casino where they engage in a poker game. Mabuse again tries out his regular trick of hypnosis in order to find a victim from whom he can extract large amounts of money. This is conveyed through an effective scene in which the whole background becomes black and only Mabuse's face is left visible, whereas it is slowly magnified on the screen as it tries to command to Wenk.
The other moment is their third encounter, in which Mabuse is disguised as a magician and calls up Wenk on the stage. Wenk finally recognizes his nemesis behind the mask, yet is unable to resist the hypnosis. Mabuse then orders him to drive with a car off the cliff into the Melior quarry. The sequence of Wenk driving the car through the forest is remarkable, displaying the subtitle "Melior" on his windshield, and then the word "Melior" is repeated four times as it slides from right to left side of a whole row of trees along the road, in a fantastic mise-en-scene. With a better editor, who would have cut out many of the unecessary subplots, this would have been a far more compact film. Still, it is an interesting essay on the chaotic time in Germany of that era, focusing on all sorts of underground thugs who have arisen from thee, noticeable in Lang's commentary on contemporary existentialiast and nihilist tendencies in a highly intriguing moment in which Countess Told admits: "I am afraid there is nothing on this world that I can be interested in for a long time... Everything I can see from my car, from my window is partially revolting, partially uninteresting." This causes Mabuse to reply that the only interesting thing is "to play with people and their destinies", revealing that money was not his interest at all, but sheer exploration of how psychology can be misused to exploit people.