- May 7, 2001
The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse
The Criterion Collection
Studio: Criterion Collection
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 121 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.19:1 Standard
Audio: DD Monaural
Package: 2 disc set in a double Keep Case
For those not familiar with Fritz Lang, he just might very well be the director responsible for turning out the majority of great films that we would now refer to as Film Noir. He was responsible for many films of the genre such as; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), Human Desire (1954), The Big Heat (1953), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Clash by Night (1952), Scarlet Street (1945), You Only Live Once (1937) not to mention the film he’ll probably be most remembered for, the 1927 silent science fiction classic Metropolis. While I wouldn’t call The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse Film Noir, I’d most certainly call it a Noir precursor.
The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse is somewhat of a sequel to his earlier film, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922). A corrupt ex-cop Hofmeister (played by Karl Meixner) has stumbled upon a fantastic criminal plot and wants to redeem himself to the respected police Inspector he once worked with, Inspector Lohmann (played by Otto Wernicke – a role that was carried over from Lang’s previous film M from 1931). Obviously due to his lack of credibility, the Inspector is dubious but decides to meet with him. The group is robbing jewelry stores and engaged in an elaborate counterfeiting scheme among other nasty deeds.
Shortly after the initial robbery takes place, it becomes increasingly clear that Dr. Mabuse might somehow be responsible for what has taken place. It has been determined that Dr. Mabuse (played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge) has been committed to an asylum under the care of Dr. Baum (Oskar Beregi Sr.) and he has been writing an incredibly detailed manifesto which is identical to the crimes being committed right down to the finest detail.
As Lohmann delves deeper, he grows increasingly suspicious of Dr. Mabuse. Mabuse had spearheaded an organization years earlier, but was driven insane when his criminal empire crumbled and Lohmann suspects that Mabuse might be feigning his insanity. Confident he is on the right track, things suddenly become complicated when he learns that the so-called criminal mastermind has just died. Needless to say, the criminal acts continue but the race is on to see who the real criminal mastermind really is.
Typical of what would become popular in many of the Film Noir pictures that would follow, there is an interesting assortment of experimental techniques that were used in this film, such as a confrontation early in the film when Hofmeister is hiding behind a chest with extremely loud noise making everything else unintelligible, a shooting which takes place amidst a number of cars honking their horns thus masking the sound of a gunshot when a murder takes place as well as a lighting effect whereby trees are lighted from below at night to emphasize or perhaps exaggerate the speed of the car chase. The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse lacks the same grittiness of M, however it’s no less engaging.
Germany’s Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Goebbels, banned the film in 1933 and it wasn’t until August 24th, 1951, that the country was finally able to see the film, albeit a shortened 111 minute version from its original 124 minutes. The Criterion version is 121 minutes and unfortunately 3 minutes of the film still remain missing. The original negative version survived at the German Film Institute but in severely damaged condition. Therefore, the 1951 duplicate positive from the GFI served as the basis for the restoration. Missing scenes from the Federal Film Archive and the Munich Film Museum were inserted.
The Feature: 4/5
Very very impressive – in fact, it’s hard to believe this was shot in 1933. Presented in its original AR of 1.19:1, this presentation exceeds many of the classic titles from the 50’s and 60’s that we have recently witnessed.
When the film starts, there is a lot of shimmer, particularly during the opening scene. Thankfully, that is short lived and the rest of the film goes on beautifully. Blacks were exceptional – always deep resulting in a grayscale that was most impressive. Whites were nicely contrasted and always appeared to be stark and clean. There was an impressive amount of shadow detail as well.
There was a hint of fine grain throughout the entire film which rendered a very pleasing film-like picture. Equally impressive was a nice sense of dimensionality during many of the scenes.
Image detail was most impressive at times with the film looking only slightly soft on occasion. There was only a minimal amount of dirt, dust and debris and scratches were present occasionally but never to a point of distraction. Light shimmer was present initially and persisted during the opening scene, but only showed up now and again throughout the film. There was no evidence of any compression issues or any type of artifacting.
As the film starts, Criterion gives a brief history relating to the film and its ban in the country as well. All things considered, this transfer looks superb.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital Monaural which does an admirable job with very few problems to speak of.
First off, there is very little hiss to speak off. It is present from time to time, but never becomes intrusive or bothersome. There are a couple of pops and a few occasions where compression is evident, but again, these were exceptions to the rule.
Dialogue was for the most part clear and bold and overall the tonality of the track was natural and never become shrill or grating.
Needless to say the track is rather thin but offers a little more oomph than you might imagine. There are a couple of shootouts and several explosions and the track is more than adequate at performing what needs to be done.
The set is comprised of two discs and is absolutely crammed with special features. Disc one contains the feature film and;
[*] A Commentary By David Kalat, author of The Strange Case Of Dr. Mabuse and who is a virtual authority on the Mabuse character as well as the great director, Fritz Lang. Mr. Kalat does a most impressive job at keeping your attention and offers up a number of interesting facts and tidbits relating to the film and the great director. He also discusses techniques that would go on to become popular in many of Lang’s future films. Super commentary – Mr. Kalat is very easy to listen to.
Disc Two contains the following supplements:
[*] The disc starts off with Le Testament Du Dr. Mabuse which is the entire French language version of the film. Lang made this version at the same time as the German version, but utilizing French actors. This version is 93 minutes long but doesn’t quite equal German version –an interesting inclusion.
[*] Up next is For Example – Fritz Lang which is a brief passage from a 1964 interview with Fritz Lang by Erwin Leiser from the program For Example Fritz Lang, as the great director reflects back and offers a host of personal stories as well as history relating to his career. The interview is in great shape, in German with English subtitles. Duration: 20:39 minutes.
[*] Mabuse In Mind is a documentary which features a discussion with actor Rudolf Schündler who reflects back about working with Fritz Lang and the filming of the feature film. Duration: 15:16 minutes.
[*] Norbert Jacques; Mabuse’s Creator is a short featurette with the author interviewed by scholar Michael Farin as they discuss the writer’s life. Duration: 9:56 minutes.
[*] The Three Faces Of Dr. Mabuse is narrated by David Kalat, who also provided the commentary, compares and describes the three edited versions of this film. Again, Mr. Kalat does a great job at keeping this interesting. Duration: 19:47 minutes.
[*] Production Designs – is a group of approximately 45 drawings of various sets that were used throughout the film.
[*] Memorabilia and Stills is another extensive series of photographs and vintage posters pertaining to the feature film.
[*] And finally an 8 page folded Insert has been included which includes a listing of Chapter Stops, DVD Production Credits, Cast Credits and a 4 page essay by Tom Gunning, a professor at the University of Chicago in the department of art history and a member of the Committee on Cinema and Media. He also authored The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity.
Special Features: 4.5/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
If you’re a fan of Fritz Lang or the crime/thriller/noir genres, you owe it to yourself to take a close look at this package. The film isn’t quite as “pulpy” as many of his later efforts, but it is most definitely a film that was ahead of its time and one responsible for many of the characteristics that would become commonplace in many of the pulp dramas that would soon follow.
Criterion has done an amazing job at presenting this film and they’ve complemented it with a plethora of incredible supplements – all of which makes my decision to highly recommend this package, a very easy one.
Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
Release Date: May 18th, 2004