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Image Entertainment presents
Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler) (1922)

"Only now shall the world learn who I am—I! Mabuse! A giant—a titan who jumbles up laws and gods like withered leaves!!"
- Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: September 13, 2001

Stars: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel, Bernhard Goetzke
Other Stars: Paul Richter, Forster-Larrinaga, Hans Adalbert Schlettow, Georg John
Director: Fritz Lang

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, drug use, nudity)
Run Time: 3h:49m:49s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 014381941227
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-BA- A-

DVD Review

Mah-BOO-zah. Say it with me. Mah-BOO-zah. The name may not mean much in the US, but in Germany the name 'Mabuse' is as much a household name of horror as Dracula or Frankenstein. Based on a novel by Norbert Jacques, a total of 12 canonical movies about the evil Dr. Mabuse and his spiritual successors have hit the screen. Here, for the first time on DVD, is Fritz Lang's original film that started it all.

The picture opens with Dr. Mabuse playing solitaire with a deck of cards that is most unusual: each card represents a different face and identity of the Doctor! Selecting one at random, he proceeds with a tour de force opening sequence in which he derails the German stock market and manipulates investors with suggestion and false information. But where Mabuse is happiest is at the gambling tables that plagued Weimar Germany. There the profiteers and nouveau riche frittered away millions while working men and women were barely able to keep up with inflation enough to keep food on the table. Mabuse takes advantage of the idle rich through hypnosis and mental control, as well as arranging fortuitous meetings for them with women of questionable morals. Pitted against the many-faced doctor and his elaborate machinations is State Attorney Norbert von Weck (Bernhard Goetzke), who on occasion resorts to disguise himself in order to attempt to identify the criminal mastermind who is wreaking such havoc in all aspects of the teetering German economy.

Klein-Rogge (best known as Rotwang in Lang's Metropolis four years later) gives a suitably intense portrayal to the doctor. The various disguises are often far over the top, but he brings a presence to the role that causes us to disregard that fact just as do his potential victims. Goetzke makes for a believable hero as well, even though Lang cleverly sets the audience up to believe that handsome Paul Richter, as Edgar Hull, one of the first victims of Mabuse, will be the hero of the piece. Instead, he is swept away and dispatched by Mabuse in a veritable afterthought that shows just how beneath notice Mabuse considers the rest of the public. Only von Weck, who is able to resist Mabuse's mental control with difficulty, is a suitable adversary.

The sets are mostly naturalistic when indoors. However, once outside in the alleyways and shadowy streets of the unnamed city, German Expressionism takes over with wild angles and sharp contrasts of light and dark. Another tactic borrowed from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), which Lang had originally been scheduled to direct, is the use of animated text on screen. This is used primarily in the hypnosis sequences to visually represent the hypnotic suggestion echoing in the mind of the victim. It's quite effective and well done here.

Well before Battleship Potemkin, we find Lang using montage and meaningful cuts in Mabuse. On numerous occasions, a question will be posed at the end of a scene, and the visual of the next succeeding scene will answer the question. This is highly effective even today, and must have been truly startling in 1922.

As usual for a David Shepard-produced silent disc, the film is run at visually correct speed rather than at sound speed. This makes the two parts of the film (which were released independently, even though neither can stand on its own) quite lengthy, but the time spent is well worth it. The intertitles unfortunately appear to be new and digitally rendered; their digital appearance contrasts unfavorably with the age of the film and draws away unnecessary attention, especially when overlays are used to cover text on the screen. I would have much preferred removable subtitles for this aspect of the presentation.

Much as is the case in a revenge story, the fun is in seeing how Mabuse's plans are revealed bit by bit. We as junior Mabuses get a little frisson of delight in seeing them unspool just like clockwork, especially when the victims of Mabuse's crimes are not terribly sympathetic. The moral ambiguities inherent in the Mabuse and von Weck characters make this a fascinating picture that holds up very well over the decades.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Dr. Mabuse is presented slightly windowboxed, so that minimal (if any) picture information will be lost to overscan. I highly applaud the use of windowboxing in silent films and hope to see more of it. The source print is occasionally a bit over-contrasty, but with good deep blacks. There are the usual expected scratches, flickers and speckles, but nothing that those used to silents will object to. Detail is fairly good except when washed out by the excessive contrast in the source print, with crisp edges and nice clarity. A light band is visible near the top of the picture throughout; a similar band appears on prints of other films part way down the picture, leading me to wonder if there might be some cropping done here. If so, it's very subtle as there appears to be plenty of head room and the compositions are pleasing. The print is presented without color tinting. Both discs are RSDL, so high bit rates can be used, helping coax the best possible picture out of this 35mm source material.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(silent)yes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 Dolby Surround score is very nice indeed. Composer Robert Israel wrote the score, for piano and small orchestra, and it fits the action well without being Mickey Mousy. As befits a modern score, it's hissless and noise-free, and also lacks distortion. Nothing to complain about here at all.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Kalat
Packaging: other
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 1h:00m:15s; 58m:12s

Extras Review: The only extra is a full-length commentary by David Kalat, head of All Day Entertainment and author of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse, a new book on the Mabuse films and novels. Kalat also produced and did commentaries for the All Day releases of The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. There's no doubt that Kalat knows his stuff. Amazingly, hardly any material here is repeated from the commentaries on those two discs. Kalat provides a wealth of information about Lang, the making of the film, symbolism and artistic aspects. There is of course a good deal of duplication with the material in his book, but it's highly enjoyable to have such a knowledgeable guide take you through this picture for nearly four hours. Even though he thoroughly covers the background information, his comments are frequently screen-specific. Unfortunately, he must have thought his comments would be edited, because at one point he starts a sentence over twice trying to get it right. But that's a mere quibble on a first-rate commentary such as this one. No other extras are provided; a trailer from the US release would have been interesting, if one even exists. Chaptering is a bit on the thin side with only 32 stops (including four for credits) to cover both discs.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

A lengthy but intriguing and always visually interesting crime drama, with slightly supernatural twists, in a beautiful transfer, with an excellent full-length commentary. Who could ask for more?

 


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