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The Criterion Collection presents
"The ultimate purpose of crime is to establish the endless empire of crime, a state of complete insecurity and anarchy, founded upon the tainted ideals of a world doomed to annihilation."
DVD ReviewDr. Mabuse serves as Fritz Lang's symbolic übermensch, a Nietzschean superman gone horribly wrong, who adapted to his times like a chameleon in a never-ending drive to sow chaos and anarchy while benefiting himself. First seen in 1922's Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, Mabuse would serve Lang's purposes twice more, including this offering, before taken over by other hands in over a dozen other pictures in the 1960s and '70s. This second entry in the series also serves as a sequel of sorts to Lang's M (1931).
Mabuse (again portrayed by Rudolf Klein-Rogge) has been committed to the asylum of Dr. Baum (Oskar Beregi Sr.), initially in a catatonic state, but now he has developed a mania for writing his criminal plans. Someone, perhaps Mabuse himself, continues to operate his crime ring on the outside, since the crimes he writes down are being committed in exact detail. Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) comes to this realization a bit late, and only connects the dots after Mabuse is found dead in his cell. But the evil of Mabuse continues on, somehow, and Lohmann must try to foil Mabuse's schemes before he forces a breakdown of society altogether from beyond the grave.
The survival of Mabuse's evil heads up a point that would be made even more strongly in Lang's third entry in the series, The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960): that Mabuse is not merely a man, but a state of mind. As such, Mabuse is not susceptible to control by prison or asylum walls; the temptations of evil are too strong. This pessimistic worldview is emphasized by the adaptability of Mabuse: during the breakdown of morals in the Weimar Republic of 1922, his focus was on debauchery and greed. In 1933, with the rise of the Nazis, his emphasis is on developing his own cult of personality and terrorizing the populace. In the conformist times of 1960, his emphasis is on discovering and using the secrets of others for his own ends. As such, Mabuse is a creature of his day, and not tied to any individual.
Klein-Rogge, a notable silent star (best known as mad scientist Rotwang in Metropolis), intriguingly plays the part almost entirely silent. The only dialogue that he utters is actually spoken after he's dead, by his spectre accusing Dr. Baum. This is a particularly horrific sequence, since the guilty Baum envisions Mabuse facing him in partially dissected form, his brain exposed and his eyelids removed. This ghastly picture was deleted from the French and American prints, but it's quite striking, especially in this excellent restoration from 2000, which permits one to see all the horrific detail. Wernicke's Inspector Lohmann, a carryover from M, intriguingly pursues police work more through hunch and guesswork than pursuing clues. Lang appears to suggest that such ordinary police methods are completely inadequate for such an adversary as Mabuse.
Lang would become renowned in Hollywood for directing noir films, but there's a good deal of the noir character already at work here, as it had been in M. Lang uses light and shadow in a striking manner, with some spectacular practical effects, including the blazing destruction and collapse of a chemical factory. Another classic set piece is the assassination of Dr. Kramm (Theodor Loos) in his car at a stoplight, in a manner that completely escapes detection until the perpetrators are long gone. Lang's camera is frequently active, moving to emphasize a particular area of the frame. His cross-cutting is expert, as he alternates between a gunfight of part of Mabuse's crew and the police in an apartment house, with the ostensible hero and heroine (Gustav Diessl and Wera Liessem) in a locked room with a hidden bomb. Lang further distorts the point of view by fooling the viewer frequently; as we think we're looking at a curtain from one way, Lang suddenly reveals that we're facing from the other direction. The sound design is similarly misleading, emphasizing that in a world controlled by Mabuse one can trust neither his eyes nor ears as to what is reality.
This restoration reinstates over 10 minutes to the longest previous cut of the film (and 45 minutes to the butchered American cut!), but it's still missing between 2 and 3 minutes of running time, or about 131 meters of film. There's an odd absence of footage of crimes actually being committed early on; since Goebbels had just banned several crime films on grounds of harm to order and society in the two weeks before Mabuse was submitted to the censors, it's possible that Lang cut them out himself in order to avoid that fate. That would explain why that additional footage has never surfaced. If so, it didn't help because Goebbels banned the film anyway. It wasn't seen in Germany until 1951, and only shorter French and American cuts were circulating before then. This close approximation of Lang's original is certainly welcome.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Testament was shot in a narrower gauge than usual, at only 1.19:1, and through the magic of pillarboxing (black bars at the sides) that ratio is preserved on this DVD, though the bars may be invisible depending on your overscan settings. Compared to prior prints of this film, the picture here is downright astonishing in its quality. There's startling clarity and detail, with rich black levels and excellent greyscale. There's a bit of flicker and a slightly digital edge to the transfer, but when you compare it to the clips in the documentaries it's an absolute revelation. If only all films from 1933 could look this good!
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Criterion supplies the original German track in 1.0 format. There's ample noise and hiss that comes and goes on the ancient optical track, though if you compare it to the American cut found on Extras Review: Criterion pulls out all the stops to make this a jam-packed two-disc set. The film proper features a knowledgeable commentary by David Kalat, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse and producer for All Day Entertainment. Kalat finally begins to run a bit thin on material here, repeating a fair amount from his commentaries on the Mabuse discs from his own company. But for those who don't own these, Kalat provides a ton of useful information. He also has a pleasant speaking voice that makes his commentaries much easier to listen to than the run-of-the-mill scholarly comments. He does a particularly good job of bringing Mabuse into the 21st century, positing the model of Mabuse as the driving force between Enron, Arthur Andersen, and other corporate criminals.
Disc 2 leads off with an astonishing extra: one of the few remaining prints of the French version (01h:33m:31s), which, though shorn of half an hour, was for many years the only way Lang's film was known at all. It's worth seeing because other than Klein-Rogge and a few of his underlings, the entire cast is replaced with French-speakers! Although shot by Lang, it was not edited under his supervision, and while the result is more linear and easier to follow than the German version, it's also lacking much of the artistry that makes the original great. It's no wonder that, being known only in this stunted version, this picture went unappreciated for so long. It's taken from a 16mm print, so it doesn't look terrific, but it's excellent for comparative purposes. The French dialogue also clarifies some motivations while abbreviating others, so the two are both worth seeing.
Three documentaries and a featurette provide additional background. Excerpts from the 1964 television documentary For Example Fritz Lang features Lang discussing the first two Mabuse movies as well as Woman in the Moon (1929). Dr. Mabuse in Mind (1984), directed by Thomas Honickel, is a talk with supporting actor Rudolf Schündler about his experiences in making this, his first film. A 9m:56s featurette on Norbert Jacques takes a sympathetic look at the creator of Mabuse, who was forced aside by Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou. Finally, Kalat returns to provide a comparison between the German, French, and American versions of the film (19m:46s).
But that's not quite all! There's a gallery of production drawings that takes a look (with some detail extractions) of 20 of the arty production drawings, and healthy galleries of the striking art featured on the various posters, pressbooks, and stills for the different versions of the film. Oddly, no trailer is included for any version (obviously it's unlikely one would survive for the German version). Wrapping up the set is a booklet with a brief set of production notes. It's enough to keep the Mabuse fan busy for a very long time.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsThe second outing for Dr. Mabuse and Inspector Lohmann takes the characters into new and even darker directions. Criterion's disc is exemplary on all counts, with more extras than one could have imagined.
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