The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
I have an anti-intellectual knee-jerk reaction against old films: too slow, over acted, heavy handed… While some old films do confirm these stereotypes, there are others that prove them to be false, such as Chaplin’s The Circus (1928) and Keaton’s The General (1926). Well, add Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse to that list. This is a wildly entertaining film, even by today’s standards.
The film is a crime story, but full of colorful minor characters, German expressionist shots, and supernatural hallucinations.
Writing acts both as the impetus for the crimes committed in the film and the first tangible clue the police discover. In a way, this movie is a testament to the power of the written word.
And then there’s the supernatural elements in the film. According to Wikipedia, Lang regretted these scenes. I can see how for some people they may cross a line and make the film too unrealistic. Yet for me, they greatly add to the power of this film. The haunting glare of Mabuse is something that will stick with me for awhile.
One of the other things I love about this film are the minor characters. They are often very creatively fleshed out. The costumes and the mise-en-scène are really wonderful.
And then there’s Captain Lohmann (whose name may have inspired Arthur Miller). While he’s ostensibly the hero of the film, he’s also wonderfully flawed, drawn from the tradition of Sherlock Holmes: with great genius comes great eccentricity.
And the movie ends with a car chase. And the spectre of Mabuse.
Give yourself a treat and check this flim out.
(written March 11, 2011)