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Germany 1922
Directed by
Fritz Lang
333 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Dr Mabuse, The Gambler (Pts 1 & 2)

A great success in its day and still holding its own in cinema history, Lang's two part epic allegory of corruption in his contemporary Germany employs a rich mixture of devices and motifs to portray his out-of-kilter world.

Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), the creation of novelist Norbert Jacques, is in many ways the archetypal villainous mastermind of which there have been innumerable instances in action thrillers since but here he is also Lang's personification of evil that manifests itself in various forms throughout society. Whilst it is easy to understand how the audience of the day would have thrilled to its set-pieces, from the opening sequence dealing with the robbery of documents from a moving train to the final shoot-out at Mabuse's HQ, today the film seems unnecessarily long (which at a whopping 333 minutes is not surprising) and is principally of historical interest both as a commentary on its troubled times which were characterised by rampant inflation, social unrest and moral laxity.

The film is also remarkable as a pre-echo of the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler. It is interesting that scriptwriter and Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, became a Nazi sympathiser as she here gives the insane Mabuse an extended airing of the will-to-power philosophy most famously associated with Friedrich Nietzsche. Presumably she later did not see Mabuse as delusionary or had come to believe that the National Socialist pre-occupation with the occult would have beneficial consequences for her and the German people.

Dr Mabuse, The Gambler was made in two parts and premiered on successive nights. The first, longer part, The Great Gambler: A Picture of the Time, is faster-moving and more sustaining than the second part, Inferno: A Play About People of Our Time. Lang revisited Mabuse again in the early talkie, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932) and in 1961 with The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse..




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