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Kino on Video presents
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Dr. Mabuse der spieler) Kino Edition (1922)

"Only now, shall the world know who I am—I—Mabuse! I want to become a giant—a titan, churning up laws and gods like withered leaves!!"
- Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 01, 2006

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

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, drug use, suicide, brief nudity)
Run Time: 04h:31m:24s
Release Date: July 18, 2006
UPC: 738329046620
Genre: crime


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

DVD Review

Mah-BOO-zeh. Say it with me. Mah-BOO-zeh. 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 second 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 depicting the 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.

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.

The restoration used here adds another 40 minutes of running time to the already epic 3h:49m version previously released by Image. The result flows much better, and doesn't actually seem quite as long. There are a number of striking new sequences, making Mabuse an even more formidable character and providing additional narrative depth.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: This presentation is of the 2000 restoration by several film archives, utilizing the original German domestic negative and the export negative. As a result, it's one of the most beautiful renditions of a classic silent on the market, with plenty of detail. The previous DVD version tended to be rather contrasty, and this one reveals the wealth of visual texture that Lang utilized. The greyscale is excellent and the transfer is well-rendered for the most part. There is some minor wear and damage, but nothing more than the random speck or nick here and there. The main objection is that in sequences that include fast movement, there is some ghosting that softens and blurs the image, apparently due to a PAL/NTSC conversion. It's not too noticeable, however, since this isn't a film with a lot of frenetic activity.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no


Audio Transfer Review: Aljoscha Zimmermann contributes a witty and evocative score that follows the film's moods well without Mickey-Mousing it to death. Utilizing a handful of basic motifs, the music, played by a piano trio plus percussion, never becomes tiresome or monotonous thanks to tonal shifts and variations. The sound is entirely in the front speakers, without any surround activity at all. Range is excellent and the recording is quite clean.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Double alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:23m:20s/39m:40s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: A gallery features 17 stills and lobby cards; an 11-screen bio and a fairly complete filmography are included. Chaptering is a bit on the sparse side for the herculean length of this picture. The most substantial extra is The Story Behind Dr. Mabuse, a set of three featurettes that also can be played as a single 52m:32s documentary. The first, running 12 minutes, is a discussion of the Zimmermann's score, which reveals the elaborate thought process behind the development of the music. A second featurette, 9m:30s, is devoted to author Norbert Jacques, who created Mabuse but was eventually shunted aside by Lang and lost control of his character. Finally, Mabuse's Motives talks about the themes of the Mabuse films and includes several interview segments with Lang. It's a shame that the Image commentary by David Kalat (still one of the best DVD commentaries ever recorded) couldn't have been included here as well; serious fans of this picture will do well to have both sets.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A lengthy but intriguing and always visually interesting supernatural crime drama, presented in a restored transfer from the original negatives, this edition of Dr. Mabuse is utterly gorgeous, despite a bit of PAL/NTSC ghosting.

 


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