The 1001 Movies book needs to get its facts straightened. According to the book, Dr. Mabuse der Spieler is a two part film, with part one at an easy 95 minutes and part two at 100 minutes. The real film, however, combined runs a total of four and a half hours. And it’s not just this film; I did some fact checking, and probably a quarter of the entries in the 1920’s have the wrong running time, different versions of films notwithstanding. Regardless, this just meant that my adventure into Dr. Mabuse ran much longer than I anticipated, which may have negatively affected my opinion of the film.
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (known in English) is a Fritz Lang film, whom you might remember from his masterpieces M and Metropolis. It’s been a while since I’d seen a Fritz Lang film, so I wasn’t really able to compare and contrast this with the other works of his I’ve seen, but even still, I could tell there was something missing in this, some extra factor that elevated M and Metropolis to a greater level that this just seemed to lack. The film starts out by dropping you into the scenario without informing you of who is who or what is happening, which seemed a rather rude and abrupt intro, and it was only thanks to Wikipedia that I had any idea what was going on. Apparently the titular Dr. Mabuse used an orchestrated stock scare to make a fortune off the panic of buyers and sellers, which was quite memorable for Mabuse’s shadowy spectre looming over the tattered remains of the empty stock floor. Really, the man’s stare could knock over all ten pins alone, it’s that distinctive and imposing. It’s obvious from the beginning and from the way he acts that Mabuse is a villain and all-around devious guy, which makes the film all the more delightful to wade through as we are essentially following the story of the bad guy; rare for a silent picture to do. I was grateful for the acting, at least; I don’t know what it is about foreign silents, but they never seem to be overacting the way American silent stars seem to do, and this was a good example of how it can work. It was a welcome refreshment for me, and if you’ve been mired in the oftentimes boggy world of silent cinema for a while as I have, it will likely be for you as well.
I was much more keen on Lang’s sound work, as he seemed to be lacking a crucial storytelling device with this and Metropolis, as good as the latter was. Some directors were simply made for silent work, and some couldn’t find their footing until sound was introduced, and to me Lang is of the latter category. There are definitely some moments here, though, mostly thanks to the richness of the storytelling device of a villain protagonist, but all in all, I couldn’t help but feel that this could’ve been so much better than it ended up being. It’s good, but it’s a type of good that doesn’t quite fully satisfy, and leaves you wanting better instead.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10