Running Time: 122 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
The Testament of Dr Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr Mabuse) is groundbreaking director, Fritz Lang’s (Metropolis) final collaboration with his wife and screenwriter Thea von Harbou. Having had the film banned in his home country by the Minister of Propaganda, Norbert Jacque, during Hitler’s reign of power, Lang promoted his project in a variety of foreign markets. He even used the same sets but different actors in an alternative version, Le Testament du Dr Mabuse in an attempt to appeal to the western market.
The story forms the second chapter in a series of mystery thrillers, including Dr Mabuse, the Gambler (1922), The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960), The Return of Dr Mabuse (1961), The Invisible Dr Mabuse (1962), Dr Mabuse v Scotland Yard (1963), The Death Ray of Dr Mabuse (1963) and The Vengeance of Dr Mabuse (1972).
The plot involves disgraced police detective, Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) discovering a huge criminal organisation located within a noisy printing press. Before he can inform his former colleague, Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wenicke), the lights go out in his apartment and a fracas ensues. When the detective is later found by the police, he appears to have gone mad. He is taken to Professor Bam’s (Oscar Beregi Sr) asylum. The location is also home to a former criminal mastermind, Dr Mabuse (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) who communicates only by jumbled scribbles on paper. When Baum’s colleague, Dr Kramm (Theodor Loos) discovers a link between recent crimes and Mabuse, he is assassinated by a gang associated with the doctor. Lohmann is also on the trail and with help from reformed gang member, Thomas Kent (Gustav Diessl), the men close in on the brains behind the operation.
The Testament of Dr Mabuse is an engaging and creepy thriller/ mystery with visuals and sound effects that are way ahead of their time. From the explosive opening sequence of Hoffmeister escaping from the crumbling printing press, you know instantly that you are watching something special. Lang keeps the story moving along with enough camera tricks and plot twists to keep you hooked to the screen throughout.
Similar to the villain in the Australian horror movie, Patrick, Dr Mabuse remains bedridden for most of the running time yet is able to carry an incredible amount of menace. This is testament to actor, Rudolph Klein-Rogge and the ghoulish makeup supplied by Franz Siebert. Otto Wenicke is great as the boisterous and arrogant Inspector Lohmann and Gustav Diessl is likeable and dashing as the bad guy turned hero, Kent. There is even room for a romantic subplot between Kent and the woman who believes in him, Lilli (Wera Liessem). Fortunately this does not detract from the main thrust of the story.
The final quarter is full of ingenius setpieces with plenty of suspense thrown in for good measure. I have to own up to never having heard of the Dr Mabuse series before viewing this. I’ll be intent on hunting a few more down as The Testament of Dr Mabuse is a winner.