CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • A
  • Crime, Drama
  • 1933
  • 122 mins

The Testament Of Dr Mabuse

The Testament Of Dr Mabuse

Synopsis

Sensational crime drama from Fritz Lang. Evil genius Dr Mabuse is locked away in prison - but he still manages to engulf Germany in a crime wave

About

Dr Mabuse was one of cinema's first evil geniuses (he first appeared in Dr Mabuse The Gambler in 1922). His mad staring eyes, white medical clothes and fiendish intelligence (portrayed by the ghoulish Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who also played the mad scientist in Lang's Metropolis) formed a prototype for subsequent larger than life villains, from Blofeld to Dr Evil. It's a measure of the power of his presence that Lang manages to construct this whole film around him: even though he spends less than five minutes on screen and dies in the early stages of the story.

At the end of Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, Mabuse was sent to prison - and on to a lunatic asylum. Ten years later he's still there, obsessively studied by a psychiatrist Dr Baum (played with real menace by Oscar Beregi) and furiously writing an "instruction manual for carrying out crimes according to irrefutable logic". Meanwhile, a gang of criminals controlled by a mysterious voice that comes from a curtained room are blackmailing, stealing, killing and burning exactly according to Mabuse's manual. A dishevelled but highly effective police inspector, Lohmann (Oscar Wernicke reprising his role from 1931's M with endearingly crumpled charm) picks up the trail - but is thrown off again when Dr Mabuse dies and the crime wave continues.

Cinema historians have long argued over whether this is an anti-Nazi parable. It's certainly easy to see parallels between Hitler's prison-book 'Mein Kampf' and Mabuse writing insanely in his cell and setting down an agenda to create "The Absolute Rule Of Crime: a condition of complete insecurity and anarchy" - especially given the atrocities of Crystalnacht and the fact that Lang was half Jewish.

Also, this was Lang's last German film before he fled the country and it was one of the first to be banned by Goebbels (who claimed "it posed a threat to law and order and public safety"). Equally, it's possible to view the film as a crime thriller and put the controversy down to coincidence. Lang may have claimed it was about Hitler (in 1943) but he was notorious for making his own myth and exaggerating his anti-Nazi credentials.

Politics aside, this is fine entertainment. The story is enjoyably over-the-top and fast-paced. Right from the very start Lang uses it as a platform for some characteristically extravagant set pieces. The opening sequence is a tense game of hide-and-seek in a warehouse between the criminal gang and a former police officer who's on their trail; the tension steadily notched up by a pounding soundtrack of industrial noises (all the more impressive since this was only Lang's second film using the comparatively new medium). There's a splendidly choreographed assassination carried out at a road junction (we realise it's been a success when the lights change and an aerial camera shows rows of cars driving around the motionless vehicle of the victim), a great race against time in a flooded room.

Not every aspect of the film is a success - some of the dialogue is clunky, much of the acting (heavily reliant on the emphatic gestures and exaggerated facial expressions of the silent era) is alien to modern audiences (although in the case of Mabuse and his mad acolyte Baum this definitely adds to the interest) and there's an unappealing love interest. All the same, the film generally cracks along. The final sequence involving the destruction of a huge chemical works and a car chase through eerily lit woods, round hairpin bends and over a closing level crossing is one of the triumphs of early cinema.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Karl Meixner, Otto Wernicke, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Theodor Loos, Klaus Pohl, Oscar Beregi Sr
  • Director: Fritz Lang
  • Writer: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
  • Producer: Fritz Lang
  • Photographer: Fritz Arno Wagner, Karl Vash
  • Composer: Hans Erdmann

In a nutshell

This important, controversial work from one of cinema's great early masters is more than a mere museum piece - it's also spellbinding entertainment.

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Palo Alto

    Palo Alto

    First-time writer-director Gia Coppola adapts James Francos collection of linked short stories that tell of teenagers struggles with life, love and vice

  • Film4 The Judge

    The Judge

    In small-town Indiana, the local judge (Robert Duvall) is convicted of murder. Can his estranged big city lawyer son (Robert Downey Jr.), who specialises in getting crooks off the hook, save the day?

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Joe Cunningham's 11 recommendations for LFF 14

    Unfortunately I haven¿t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that¿s what makes the London Film Festival¿s compilation approach to progr

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Michael Leader's 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

    One of the best things about the London Film Festival¿s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there¿s an eclectic collection of exciting films o

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share