on 29 October 2009
This is a significantly shortened version of a review I wrote that was too long for Amazon UK's policy.
The box includes the most recent restorations of 1922's Dr Mabuse The Gambler, 1933's The Testament Of Dr Mabuse, & Lang's last film, 1960's 1,000 Eyes Of Dr Mabuse. The set also includes an entire disc of extras for the 1922 film, 3 deluxe booklets with essays on each film, & exclusive new commentaries from noted Lang scholar David Kalat. All 3 films have superb image quality, especially considering the age of the films. The set is region free PAL.
The First Mabuse film appeared in 1922. It's based on Norbert Jacques' novel; & perhaps the most important thing to know about the film is the 2nd part of the title: "A Document of Our Times". I have found the German Weimar Republic period (roughly post WW1-around 1932) to be absolutely fascinating. I'm not aware of any other time & place on Earth that was quite this completely decadent. In Mabuse the Gambler, we get a real taste of what life may have been like in Weimar Germany, combined with a who done it thriller, a little bit of horror (the bad Dr controls his subjects by hypnotism), the occasional expressionistic set design , combined with a tremendous script from Lang's soon to be wife Thea Von Harbou & great acting from stars of the time such as Alfred Able (Metropolis), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Von Harbou's former real life husband!), & Gertrude Welker who in my opinion steals the picture as the Countess Told. Mabuse, The Gambler follows Lang's previous thriller The Spiders (1919-1920) & predates the later Spies (which borrowed a bit from Mabuse) & M. It is a 4 ½ hour epic with no dull moments, lots of unexpected plot twists & is a must view for fans of classic film. The production values were way ahead of its time & like Testament it does not appear dated today.
A brief comment on the commentary tracks: I strongly recommend first watching the film without the commentary especially if you haven't seen it before, then going back for a 2nd viewing with commentary. I know this is a huge time commitment (but hey, you spent the $50, right..?) , but in my opinion necessary here. Sometimes with silent film, I'm able to watch the film first time thorough with commentary. Here DK's fascinating commentary wanders all over the place (likely because he has so much time to fill), so that what he's discussing often doesn't synch with what's seen on screen, & even though I've seen this film several times previously I found it challenging to follow both the plot & the commentary at once. Nonetheless, I highly recommend spending the time to listen. I have read tons of background on Lang the last few years & there was still much new to me here & some helpful insights. I recommend the same for the other 2 films, but for different reasons: They have dialogue & DK gives away the twists & turns of the plot.
Now on to Testament: This 1933 classic is Lang's second talkie after the hugely influential M, & is both a sequel to The Gambler & to M, as Otto Wernicke reprises his Inspector Lohman character from M. Rudolf Klein-Rogge once again plays Dr Mabuse, though the character is quite different here then in the 1922 film. While still basically a thriller, this one has the highest horror quotient of the 3 films , & is just superbly well done for the times. It also has a subplot of exposing the early Nazi fascism, though just how deeply is open to a lot of disagreement by critics & historians . Remarkably advanced for being an early sound film, Testament does not feel particularly dated to me, though like the other 2 Lang Mabuse films, it's also very much a film of it's time. This was Lang's last German film until the wonderful 1959 remake of the Indian Tomb.
Finally we jump 27 years forward to 1960 for Lang's final film, 1,000 Eyes Of Dr Mabuse. While on the one hand, it's my least favorite of the 3, it's still got Lang's touch & in my opinion the greatest importance of this film is it's influence on the spy genre. In my opinion, the James Bond series borrowed really heavily from 1,000 Eyes. In fact, when I first saw 1,000 Eyes I really thought of Bond & (to a lesser degree Austin Powers), but again it's very much a period piece of Europe in 1960 & still has lots of intriguing Lang plot twists. 1,000 Eyes takes place completely in a fictional German hotel & this Mabuse is intent on destroying the world . While he also uses hypnotism to control people, the phrase "1,000 Eyes" describes a network of video cameras & televisions.
Another thing that raised my opinion of 1,000 Eyes after watching it for the second time this past week was going back to the 2008 Image release of 3 of the post Lang Mabuse sequels also produced by Artur Brauner & starring several of the same actors. When I first picked up the Image set last year, I was unable to make it through more then a few minutes of the 1st film. Having finally watched the 1st 2 films from the sequels set after watching the 3 Lang films in this box I got a new appreciation for 1,000 Eyes. It's corny in places, but still is a film of reasonable quality & the Cornelius character is pretty spooky. By comparison the 3 sequels (which very much imitate Eyes) often come off as unintentional comedy. The difference? Lang.
I have to stop here due to the word limit, but the set is highly recommended.
on 6 December 2009
For anyone interested in the history of film, this set is essential. Since silent days, Lang created the template for science fiction (Metropolis), spies (Spione), serial killers (M), film noir (You Only Live Once) and even renegade cops out for revenge (The Big Heat). To this day, filmakers still use the same character types, styles, motifs and plot devices devised by Lang all those years ago.
With Dr. Mabuse, he basically created the quintessential supervillain of 20th century fiction. Blofeld, The Joker, Darth Vader, Sauron, Dr. Doom, Hannibal Lecter any number of fictional dictators and gangsters - you name them, they probably owe a huge debt to Lang and his all-powerful Doctor. Not least in their uses of technology, political manipulation and 'magic' (hypnosis, 'mind tricks' etc.) for diabolical ends. I defy anyone to watch these films and not detect wholesale plot and character borrowings in The (overrated) Dark Knight (which also stole elements of Lang's 'M'), and James Bond seems to have built a whole franchise from them (especially the weakest of the three, 'Thousand Eyes').
More influential than Hitchcock? Well, Lang's influence in so many genres means that his methods haven't dated as much as the master of suspense. The stylistic gimmicks and cod-Freudianism that mar many a Hitchcock thriller are largely absent here. Lang was politically savvy enough to know that character is as much a product of the landscape (political, architectural, technological) as personal relationships. Lang's stylistic innovations are now so commonplace that they don't appear as kitsch as Hitch. In foregrounding the external factors at play, he arguably had a better grasp of the paranoia, surrealism and political horrors of the twentieth century than most of his Hollywood peers. All three deal with the key terrors of German political life - 'The Gambler' with the chaos of Weimar, 'The Testament' with the imminent mob manipulations and mega-crimes of Nazism, and 'Thousand Eyes' with cold war paranoia. Even if you tend to switch off at the pacing and acting of silent/early talkie films, you may be surprised at how modern these films seem today.
on 3 July 2010
There is no problem about the quality of this box set - but it's too bad that they didn't include the French-language version of 1932's "Testament of Dr. Mabuse", shot simultaneously by Lang (and René Sti) with a French cast. So, this "complete Lang Mabuse films" is in fact incomplete. Not only "Le testament du Dr. Mabuse" is not a lost film, but it was included in the Criterion release in America some years ago.