Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) likes to have his hands in many matters, but almost all of them are on the wrong side of the law. He loves to gamble, but with very high stakes and this could mean great financial loss, personal injury, or perhaps even death to the loser, while the winner takes all, just as Mabuse likes to have it. The times have been bleak for most people, as finances are scarce due to outrageous inflation rates. So some people move up the ranks and gain wealth by underhanded actions, of which Mabuse is the main man, the most powerful criminal there is, hands down. His games have paid off well until this point, with a lot of income involved and connections in high places, but he is still a criminal and while his empire seems invulnerable, the police still have a presence. The main agent interested in Mabuse is Inspector von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke), who delves deep into every piece of evidence he can, even going under disguise to get near Mabuse, in case some information slips from his lips. Is Mabuse as untouchable as he seems, or will von Wenk figure out some way to topple his massive empire?

The character of Dr. Mabuse has been seen in many films over time, but this is where it all started, with Mabuse’s feature film debut. I have enjoyed all of the Mabuse pictures I have able to find, but so far this one stands out as the finest one, thanks to a plethora of reasons. I don’t think the others are weaker per se, but this one is so good, it can’t help but overshadow the volumes that would follow. It all stars with the superb direction of Fritz Lang, who was a true master filmmaker and it shows here, from the earliest moments to the conclusion. The visuals are lush, but never overly flashy and that means attention remains where it should be, on the storyline and the characters within it. But the visuals are just part of the equation here, as the film just has an atmosphere about it, you can tell all the chips fell into place, right where they were intended to. This is a very dark, brutal film at times, but it has a real message and it all fits within the context of the picture. I simply cannot recommend this release enough to not only silent cinema or film noir lovers, but anyone with even a casual interest in film. One of the finest pictures of the silent era and perhaps of all time if you ask me, I am very pleased to find Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler released in such a rich edition.

I believe this film to be a landmark project in many respects, but the most obvious influence is found in terms of film noir, at least I think so. This is a rich, textured film and it deals with criminals, but the normal, run of the mill type of crooks. Mabuse is not just after money per se, as he wants to control people and get inside of their heads, which marks one of the main flags of film noir efforts. It would be easier to face a petty criminal than a sadistic mastermind like Mabuse, which is an issue this film exploits, to immerse the audience in the picture’s world. I admire director Fritz Lang for making such a bold, dark movie and while he was no stranger to making groundbreaking cinema, that doesn’t make his efforts any less important. Other films directed by Lang include Spiders, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Destiny, Metropolis, The Indian Tomb, The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, and M. The cast here includes Rudolf Klein-Rogge (A Strange Guest, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), Gertrude Welcker (Nocturne of Love, At the Grey House), Bernhard Goetzke (The Last Days of Pompeii, Between Night and Dawn).

Video: How does it look?

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is presented in a windowboxed transfer, as intended. This means the image has black bars on all sides, but this is never a distraction and allows for all of the image to be shown, which is very important. As this was made in 1922, some age related issues are present, but given the age and such, the transfer is more than impressive. The print used is very clean however, with minimal defects present in most scenes, aside from a layer of fine grain. This never becomes an issue however, as the flaws never become too prominent and as such, are never a distracting force in the least. The contrast is also in tune and looks good, this is one impressive visual effort, without a doubt.

Audio: How does it sound?

As this is a silent film, the only audio comes from the musical score, which is presented here in a newly recorded stereo edition. I found this to be a fine effort, both in terms of technical merits and within the context of the picture. The music meshed well with the film’s spirit and it sounds very good here, clean and always pleasant in tone. I doubt this kind of track could sound much better than this, which is about all we can ask for in this case.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This release includes an audio commentary track from David Kalat, a Lang scholar and expert on all things Mabuse. I’d listened to and enjoyed Kalat’s comments on two other Mabuse releases, so I was looking forward to this track, to be sure. As expected, Kalat supplies a wealth of insight and information on not just the film, but the entire Mabuse series, the cast & crew, and all sorts of other tidbits as well. Even with an extensive amount of time to fill, Kalat remains talkative and relaxed throughout, which results in a very impressive and worthwhile session.

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