Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr Mabuse, the Gambler)

Year: 1922

Production: Ullstein / UCO Film / Decla Bioscop /UFA

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel, Lil Dagover, Paul Richter

Screenwriter: Thea Von Harbou

Based loosely on Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1923) by Norbert Jacques

In two parts, 95 minutes and 100 minutes; B/W


A far more accurate premonition of conditions in 1984 than George Orwell's novel, Lang's film was originally received as a realistic portrayal of the situation in a corrupt, inflation-ridden Germany. The Spartakist rising in 1919 had been defeated with the brutal murders of Rosa Lexemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and political as well as entrepreneurial gangsterism ruled virtually unchallenged. According to Lang, the film was first shown with a prologue: a dynamic montage of scenes of the socialist rising and the murderous right-wing backlash, organized under state control, which eventually triumphed. This would suggest that the world depicted in the bulk of the film is a consequence of the Spartakist's defeat. With the elimination ofthis introductory sequence from all the surviving prints, the Mabuse film now stands as a dystopia: a total breakdown of law and order, ruthlessly exploited by an evil genius combining in himself all human knowledge, psychological and scientific, not so much for profit as for the sheer pleasure of wielding absolute power.

Loosely based on the novel by Jacques, serialized in the Berliner Illustrierte, and on newspaper items of the day, the figure of Mabuse has become one of the few film characters to have achieved the status of a cultural concept, as well known in his day as James Bond is today. Sequels were still being made more than 40 years later.

Part 1 of Dr Mabuse, der Spieler , subtitled Ein Bild der Zeit (An Image of our Time), tells of how Mabuse (Klein-Rogge, also the mad scientist in Lang's Metropolis [1926]) amasses a fortune manipulating the stock market, ruining a weak count Told (Abel, the industrialist in Metropolis), mercilessly exploiting the Countess (Welcker) and his own girlfriend (Nissen), ruling by terror over his gang of forgers and murderers, able to strike anytime, anywhere at anybody, including his antagonist, the public prosecutor Von Wenck (Goetzke, who played Death in Lang's Der Muede Tod [1921]). Having dominated a world of depravity, corruption, addiction, charlatanism and unrestrained "free enterprise", gambling with human lives, Mabuse finishes totally mad and is carted off to an asylum at the end of Part 2 entitled Inferno - Menschen der Zeir ( Inferno - Men of our Time).

As in all Lang's work, the exercise of power is signified, appropriately for a film-maker, in terms of the power to "see" and to control through a technology as well as a mystique of vision. The mise en scene of looking, initiated in the monitors used in Die Spinnen (1919) and further elaborated in Metropolis and Spione (1928), culminates in the two Mabuse sequels Lang directed himself, Das Testament des Dr Mabuse (1933) and Die Tausend Augen des Dr Mabuse (1960), his last film. In his first Mabuse, Lang reserves most of the bravura sequences and effects around the theme of vision as Mabuse hypnotically influences or controls his victims, or conjures up visions for them. Lang was so pleased with his cinematographer, Carl Hoffmann, that he used him again on his next project, the massive two-part epic Die Nibelungen (1924). Apparently, Sergei Eisenstein and Esther Shub learned their editing skills analyzing and attempting to re-edit the Mabuse film.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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