Plot: What’s it about?
Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) has been locked inside a mental institution, but can those walls hold this criminal mastermind? Although he has been off the streets for a decade, he still holds immense power in the world of crime. He has been writing notes by the hundreds, most of which are impossible to decode. But these notes detail crimes that are to be carried out, though the papers never leave the institution. This is no bother to Mabuse, as he uses his powers of mind to pass his messages to his minions. At the same time, the streets are ravaged with crimes of all kinds, with no clear evidence of who is behind the spree. A police detective named Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) is the first to uncover Mabuse’s plans, but he is unable to share his news. This is because Mabuse’s incredible mind powers drive him insane, keeping the plot safe once again. Hofmeister’s boss, Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) has dealt with master criminals before and by his instincts, he knows Mabuse is involved. In order to prove Mabuse’s guilt and shut down the crimes, Lohmann must sift through the notes and put the puzzle together. That is no simple task however, as the notes are almost impossible to put in any kind of sensible order. Can Lohmann shut down Mabuse once more, or will the criminal mastermind win this round?
The infamous Dr. Mabuse, a character in numerous dark thrillers, a man whom no one knew, yet everyone had heard about. As well known as Mabuse was, I doubt most casual viewers these days have seen a Mabuse picture. But thanks to DVD, several Mabuse films are available, including this one, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. This film, produced in 1933, is the second movie in the series and has ample returning talent. Fritz Lang (Metropolis, The Big Heat) is back in the director’s chair, which means effective visuals and solid atmosphere. I wouldn’t place this film beside Lang’s best, but The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a terrific picture. The role of Mabuse is played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge (The Stone Rider, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), who would take on the role several times in his career. He brings a real sense of menace to the role, though I prefer his work in Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, in which he is almost pure evil. On the note of evil, Lang based a lot of elements in the film on real life events, as the Nazis began to rise to power. The political and social comments are evident, but don’t overpower the picture. So you can watch The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and never think about the Nazis, a true compliment to Lang’s direction. This is a more than solid movie and with Criterion’s deluxe treatment, it is highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is shown in a 1.19:1 presentation, as intended. This is the first time the film has ever been presented in the original aspect ratio, so fans should be thrilled about this careful visual treatment. Criterion has taken its usual steps, which means a digital restoration that results in a splendid transfer. The print here looks almost brand new, with light grain and minimal debris to be seen. I was shocked at first, as this movie was made in 1933, but looks incredible in this presentation. You’ll see some imperfections, but when you consider the source material, its hard not to be impressed. The image has ample depth and detail level is excellent, to the extent that is hard to believe how old the elements are. This is simply a top shelf treatment and once again, Criterion deserves immense praise for their dedication.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original German soundtrack is preserved here, via a restored, more than solid mono option. The restoration process removed a lot of clicks, pops, and other audio debris, which leaves behind a cleaner, more effective soundtrack. Of course, the elements are still over seventy years old, so don’t expect perfection. The basic audio components sound good however, with minimal signs of serious wear or degradation. The audio is thin, but come on, this movie was made back in the 1930s, so that is to be expected. The dialogue is smooth and while thin at times, the vocals never seem worn or otherwise impaired. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, which have been newly retranslated for this release.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary starts us off, as Mabuse expert David Kalat lets loose a constant wave of information. As he has done on previous Mabuse tracks, Kalat is prepared and wastes no time in this session. He covers so much ground in this track, you’d think he was talking about ten films, not just one. His style might not suit everyone, as he is more robotic than candid, but for pure volume of insight, Kalat bats a thousand. The second disc kicks off with the complete French language version of the film, titled Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse. This production shot by Lang at the same time, with a cast of French performers. I think Lang fans will be thrilled to have this complete version, as opposed to just excerpts or the like. A special comparison lines up the original version, the French edition, and the American cut of the film, then gives us a rundown of the differences. A total of three interviews can also be also found, each of which is well worth a look. This release also includes rare production design sketches, and galleries of still photos & promotional materials.