The previous Mabuse films - known to English audiences in 1922 as "Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler," and "Dr. Mabuse: The King of Crime" - were successful thrillers about a once decent doctor gone very bad, and Lang's third installment, this time with sound, suffered when the governing Nazi Party banned the film for being 'dangerous' to the public. (Lang has admitted the film takes jabs at the Nazis, and a hysterical ideological rant from Oscar Beregi has the actor mimicking Hitler's recognizable arm gesticulations and verbal cadences to hysterical heights.)
Unreleased in Germany until 1961, the sole version that managed to enjoy a contemporary release was the French version, simultaneously directed by Lang. As DVD producer and Mabuse scholar David Kalat explains in a separate comparative featurette, the shorter French version contained condensed scenes, as opposed to wholly deleted scenes. Archived on Disc 2, the 16mm French print looks pretty nasty, but reveals the kind of source materials that fans have had to settle for until a near-pristine print was discovered and restored by the German Film Institute.
Another surviving print of the longer German version was also found in the German rubble after WWII, and the film was seriously recut and dubbed for a U.S. release by an entrepreneurial producer/writer. (That shorter version is included on Kalat's own DVD release of Lang's 1960 remake, titled "1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse.")
Using the best surviving sources, Criterion's DVD set finally makes available the longest version of Lang's exciting film (transferred in its original, and oddly-framed, ratio of 1.19:1), with lots of scholarly extras.
Author Norbert Jacques had penned several popular travel books before writing his first Mabuse pulp novel, and in a rather twisted case of irony, Jacques soared to the heights as popular writer before Lang's films eventually eclipsed Mabuse's creator, leaving Lang and co-writer Thea Von Harbou as the perceived geniuses behind the evil Herr Doktor. In an interview with Jacques scholar Michael Farin, a good overview of the author and Lang's changes to the character are covered for Mabuses neophytes.
David Kalat, author of "The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse," also provides a scholarly commentary track on Disc 1, and addresses a wide range of topics and historical footnotes. Ultimately what first-time viewers will discover is the modernity of Lang's style: for his second sound film, the scene transitions recall Alfred Hitchcock's sonic experimentation in his British films, and the opening factory scene is an exceptional usage of bombastic industrial sound effects that heighten an already gripping montage.
Better still is the snappy dialogue that bristles with mordant wit, and Lang's no-nonsense inter-cutting between a multitude of scenes have the pacing of modern thriller, yet it preserves the performances of the excellent cast. Some amusing memories of filming are also provided by actor Rudolf Schundler, interviewed in 1984, who describes Lang's directorial tactics that established his legendary reputation as an autocratic perfectionist.
Lang himself is seen in a 1964 German TV Q&A with documentarian Erwin Leiser. Elegantly attired and smoking with theatrical sophistication, Lang comes off as a genuine charmer, and his gift as an engaging raconteur is illustrated via his oft-repeated anecdote of being offered the stewardship of Germany's film industry by Nazi Propaganda Minter Goebbels, before Lang fled the country and gradually journeyed to America.
This is a well-produced set, with a creepy menu that animates the hypnotic eyes from the DVD's cover art, captivating viewers in the evil Mabusian glare!
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan