FILM REVIEW: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler) (1922)

Dir. Fritz Lang. Run Time: 332 mins. PG


(Original German Release Poster)

Lang is indisputably one of the greatest of the German Expressionist directors and with films like Dr. Mabuse and Metropolis (1927) under his belt I think it is fair to say that he was one of the greatest directors to have ever worked. This, his grand tale of gangsters, mind control, deceit, and deception, is one piece in the long list of proof for this claim.

Dr. Mabuse tells the strange tale of the titular crime-lord (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) as he swindles the rich through the use of mysterious powers of mind control, manipulates the stock market, and ruthlessly murders all those who stand in his way, all the while being relentlessly hounded by the virtuous State Prosecutor Von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke). The intrigue runs deep, the mysteries run deeper, and the whole story is riveting from beginning to end.

This short synopsis, however, is one of the shallowest looks at the film that one could imagine. There is so much more to Dr. Mabuse than a simple crime story: it is a masterful critique of the overwhelming decadence of the upper classes of Berlin, it is a biting sneer in the face of ruthless capitalism, it is an interesting look into the power men hold over each other, but most importantly it is a great work of art.

I will not waste too much time talking about Lang’s masterful use of lighting and shadows, his grand shot compositions, or his inventive use of cinematic effects as these are all things that are so readily apparent in his Weimar films that it would be needless to rant about them here. What I will talk about, however, is what a sheer delight it is to be able to have access to a film such as this in the modern day. I mean, such a regular turnover of films through the cinema and DVD markets with such huge leaps and bounds being made how film is presented and what one can do with visual effects might lead some to lose sight of the rich history of narrative cinema, but with groups like the F.W Murnau Stiftung painstakingly tracking down prints of the classics of early cinema, restoring them, and making them readily available to the public one cannot lose too much heart. We, the cinema lovers of the world, have the ability (or the privilege) to experience the films in which so much of the early hard work was done, and that, too me, is one of the finest things that can happen.

So, my suggestion to you all is to track down of copy of Dr. Mabuse and set yourself aside the four to five hours it takes to watch it (different versions of the film run for differing lengths of time) and really immerse yourself in its art. It is well worth the time and the intellectual effort, with the joys that come from viewing a film as well executed as this reminding cine-philes what their love of the craft is all about.

SIDENOTE: Dr. Mabuse is listed at #13 on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

RATING: 10/10


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