on December 28, 2001
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is a must-have for any film scholar. It is one of Lang's best works, and it's hard to understand why this film is so little-known while the flashy but leaden Metropolis is considered a classic.
Sergei Eisenstein was an admirer of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, and supposedly he obtained a copy and studied its construction. I can only assume that the picture had a influence on other filmmakers around the world; it has a much more modern feel than any film I've seen from the early 20s. The pace is quick (at least in the first part), the cross-cutting between scenes is sophisticated, there is great attention to detail in the sets, and it rarely has the "stagy" feel that many silent films suffer from. If one had to point to one element that puts it ahead of its time, it would be its overall construction--the way the various shots and scenes are put together to create the story. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler creates a sense of both time and space; many things happen simultaneously in the movie-world, and the locales we see are not two-dimensional stage sets but rather three-dimensional spaces where we peer around corners and follow the characters from one room to the next. The only silent filmmaker I can think of who lavished so much attention on creating a credible world is Erich von Stroheim, though one could argue that that filmmaker should have taken a lesson from the economy of Lang's storytelling.
In addition to its status as a landmark film, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is also truly entertaining, particularly the first part. There are car and train chases, riotous gambling dens, memorable bit characters, and some great special effects. The basic story of good versus evil is compelling. Dr. Mabuse is one of the screen's greatest villains, a shrewd megalomaniac who seems to be tormented and driven by his overpowering desires. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is truly fantastic in the part. Mabuse revels insanely at his conquests and explodes with fury when he is thwarted. However, though he is extreme, he is no cartoon supervillain or two-dimensional monster; he is a fallible character, not evil itself but rather human evil, and this is what makes him exciting.
The quality of the DVD is good to fair. I was thrilled with the clarity and felt that Image had done a superb job, but those who expect every title on DVD to be as crystal-clear as a movie that was released last year will be disappointed. This is not a perfectly restored copy; there are little imperfections in the film, from scratches to missing frames. There are even some very minor shots missing--for example, the very first shot of the seance scene shows the circle of hands from above, and this is missing from the DVD version. However, this is the most extreme case that I noted. In all cases the missing scraps do not affect the film as a whole; it is just that there are moments where you might think that Lang had a poor sense of continuity (and this is not the case!). Another oddity about the copy is that at least one of the shots differs slightly from that on a copy I have on videotape. There is a scene on the DVD where von Wenk is speaking to Carozza in the prison, and the shot shows all of the two characters. On the videotape I have, the shot is a close-up from a slightly different angle. I have had the same experience with another film, The Last Laugh. On two different videotapes the same shot differs slightly.
All this being said, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this DVD. One must take into account that the film is from 1922 and is not very well-known. It is not a beloved classic that someone is going to lavish a small fortune into restoring to perfection. Note too that this is a movie that was not previously available on any format, period. There was one mail-order company that offered a home-made version on video, but the quality was poor at best and unwatchable at worst. It was like trying to watch the movie through a bowl of soup.
Of particular note is that on the new DVD the film image has been shrunk so that it does not fill all of the available space of the television. This is because the aspect ratio of silent films was more square than the familiar 1:33 to 1 of the television set; sometimes leading to the tops of heads being cropped out when silents are transferred to video. This problem is solved on the DVD of Mabuse. And, of course, the DVD shows the movie at the correct speed. I totally disagree with the reviewer who said that it seemed speeded-up. Some of the chase scenes seem a little faster than normal speed, but I think that this was a device of Lang's rather than an imperfection of the DVD. There is also a commentary by a Mabuse scholar which, judging from the little I heard, is very well-informed.
As a side note, Fritz Lang's sequel to Mabuse, 1933's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (the original German version is available only on video), is also very entertaining, and it features Lohmann, the detective from M! However, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse from the sixties (Lang's last film, I believe) is unfortunately quite forgettable and I cannot recommend it.
on June 18, 2004
As of June 2004 you need to wait and think before you buy this DVD. In it's favour it has a fantastic commentary by David Kalat. Against it, it's not a complete version. It WAS the most complete available, but now a region 2 release by Eureka contains the whole film, complete and restored.
on July 22, 2006
Yes METROPOLIS is the movie that everybody knows and while it is a highly influential work of world cinema, for my money Fritz Lang's true masterpiece is DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER especially when seen in this new authorized edition from Kino which runs 270 minutes. That's 57 minutes longer than the previous Image release which was the standard bearer up until now. There is so much I could say about this release but I will do my best to try and be concise. All of the elements that make Fritz Lang's movies what they are are on display here. The set design is truly astonishing not only for how it looks but for how it complements the action that is going on in front of it. The cinematography by Carl Hoffmann is fabulous especially when seen in a proper restoration like the one here. The editing is first rate as it highlights the dramatic action and the characters throughout the film. The characters are also fascinating to watch and there are so many of them. In many ways DR MABUSE plays like a silent version of Quentin Tarrentino's PULP FICTION (the source material IS pulp fiction) which leads me to what for me is the real strength of the picture and that is the screenplay by Thea von Harbou. The principal themes of guilt, intimidation and redemption which occur throught Lang's work are fully displayed here for the first time. Although they are often pointed out as the biggest weakness in his pictures I think just the opposite. Von Harbou's screenplays are grounded in silent film storytelling which makes them appear simplistic but like a fairy tale or other allegorical work there is a lot more when you look below the surface. It is rather telling after Lang left her and Germany that the principal themes of her scenarios crop up again and again in his work from LILIOM to SCARLET STREET to HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Rounding out the film are the vivid performances of Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Harbou's ex-husband and Rotwang in METROPOLIS) as Dr Mabuse, Bernhard Goetzke (DESTINY) as von Wenk, Alfred Abel (METROPOLIS) as Count Told and especially Norwegian actress Aud Egede Nissen as the ill-fated Cara Carozza who is the heart and soul of the story. One unintended effect by Lang is that the film is now an incredible time capsule of 1920's Berlin and what the world of CABARET must have been like. Rounding out this double DVD set are background documentaries on the making and meaning of DR. MABUSE including a marvelous part with composer Aljoscha Zimmerman and how he created his new background score which is absolutely perfect. Any lover of movies silent or sound should have this release as an example of a top director at the peak of his powers and as a prime example of how a restoration of a classic film should be done.
on August 7, 2006
Fritz Lang's brilliantly directed and designed DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER (1922, Germany) is one of the crowning achievements of the German silent cinema from the decade following World War One. And Kino Video in Manhattan has given it a magnificent restoration that runs a full four-and-a-half hours. The print is beautiful, way longer than previous versions on home video, and with an evocatively harsh piano and violin score by Aljoscha Zimmermann and ensemble.
Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is the archetype of all master criminals in a century of espionage movies, from James Bond to Alfred Hitchcock. He is a master of many disguises and is forever masterminding all means of terrorism in early 1920's Berlin. In this respect, DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER is very timely and contemporary.
In a movie that is also a commentary on 1920's Germany living, Mabuse works out of (or frequents) a cabaret with a gambling table that vanishes quickly in case of a police raid, and that offers cocaine for the mere asking. One wonders whether the cast and crew of Bob Fosse's CABARET (1972) saw this movie. Thea von Harbou's adaptation of Norbert Jacques' novel keeps the action moving quickly, despite the mammoth length. Something is always blowing up, and Mabuse is forever in another disguise to elude the police.
Actually, the 270 minute length is an asset because continuity holes have been filled in. We have two separate movies with an intermission for easy two night viewing on home video. (The intermission is at the two-and-a-half hour mark) The cinematography is by Carl Hoffmann, while the wondrous art direction is by Otto Hunte and Carl Stahl-Urach. Other cast members include METROPOLIS' Alfred Abel, Bernardt Goetzke, Aud Egede Nissen, and Paul Richter.
DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER is the grandfather of all espionage movies and cannot be recommended highly enough to fans of this genre. In its Kino Video restoration (which actually is a Berlin-Munich-Moscow restoration with Kino as American distributor), the movie is a stupendous achievement even by today's achievements. If you like it, then check out Kino's impeccable restorations of such other Lang silent restorations as DIE NIEBULENGEN (1924), METROPOLIS (1927), and SPIES (1928).
At (800) 562-3330 or Amazon.com, they are the definitive source for Lang silents.
on January 1, 2005
I have loved this film since I saw it on a big screen in film school. As a collector and afficionado of both silent and sound film noir, to me, Dr. Mabuse has no equal. Not only was it made in 1922 by the great Fritz Lang from a novel by Norbert Jacques; not only did it presage Hitler's rise and subsequent fall, but it was prescient about the future in a way that Metropolis, another famous Lang film, was not. This was the truth about Germany in the 1920's and Mabuse film scholar(hard to believe there is such a thing, but there you go),David Kalat enhances this two disc set with his insightful, though occasionaly over-analytical, commentary.
My problem with the Image Entertainment DVD is this: the version I saw in film school had a much different and more cohesive score by Konrad Elfers that features one of the most haunting, yet uplifting themes in all silent film music history. Why this score was not used by Image baffles the mind. The new score, while in surround sound, does nothng to highlight the jazz age in the Weimar Republic as does Elfer's magnificent composition. My first VHS copy of the film has this score on part 1 and regardless of the enhanced quality of the image on the DVD, the film is slower and more confusing with the new music and definitely not as much fun to watch. My new DVD also breaks up alot (my other discs do not) so there may be a problem with the DVD itself.
Otherwise, this is still one of Fritz Lang's greatest silent films and the DVD does have Kalat's great commentary which, though a bit stuffy, tells you more about the origins of Dr. Mabuse and the making of the film than you'll ever find out without doing a ton of research. It's interesting to hear that there is another, more complete version available in Europe: too bad we in America are at the mercy of the Region 1 and 2 debacle. Why can't the whole world used the same standard for DVD's so we could all get the benefit of the global marketplace and see the best possible version of the film instead of wasting almost $40 on one we may have to replace next week, if not next year?
on April 11, 2011
A more obscure Lang production that should not be tackled by beginners in silent film collection. This is really 2 films, and should be watched as such, watch the 2 films about a day apart, watching in one sitting will put one into a stupor that renders you incapable of enjoying this lovely story due to its runtime in access of 4 hours.
Dr. Mabuse is an intensely enjoyable villain, and the screen ignites with his evil.
Mabuses's disguises, his mental powers, and his misanthropy make him a truly undeservedly unappreciated portrait of screen evil.
on September 1, 2001
There is no need to repeat that this is a superb film. It is, for me, the best silent film currently available on DVD. And the quality of the picture is very good. It is not, however, perfect, and I will admit to being a bit disappointed. No doubt there are no longer any 'perfect' prints of Dr Mabuse in existence, but I was disappointed that the print quality was not a little better. It is nowhere near as good as 1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse as far as print quality goes (of course, its an older film, but it is also more important and did receive a theatrical release in the 60s). Moreover, although the package promises that it is shown at the 'correct speed' I think it was too fast. It definitely has that speeded up 'silent movie' look that you get when you project a silent film at sound film speeds. I would have slowed it down by a couple more frames per second. Nonetheless, do not hesitate to buy this DVD -- perhaps one day there will be a better one but this is WELL worth the cost.
The commentary is terrific.
on October 28, 2013
Fritz Lang's classic of the criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse is a reflection of the decadence of post world war I Berlin. Dr Mabuse would go on to become the archetype criminal mastermind in German crime fiction. Lang's sequel in 1933 (The Testament of Dr Mabuse) was widely considered an allegory of the nascent Nazi regime and would soon be banned by the Nazi's. Whether Goebbel's offer to Lang to become head of the Nazi Cinema Institute was a ruse in order to ultimately have him imprisoned and/or ultimately murdered is not known for sure. But Lang's anti Nazi attitudes and his Jewish mother caused him the flee Germany shortly after the Goebbel's offer.
Actually, in 1960, Lang returned to Germany to direct a second official sequel called "The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (Der Tousend Augen Des Dr Mabuse)
As to the specific film at hand, Dr Mabuse the Gambler (Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler) is almost 5 hours long and was originally meant to be viewed in two parts---on successive evenings. (In the DVD package, each half is on a separate disc). As with any foreign language film, it takes a lot of concentration to keep up with the subtitles (in this case, inter title cards as it is a silent film), so the watching of this marvelous film can be somewhat tedious. Nevertheless, it is a masterpiece. There is one disappointment. As mentioned by another reviewer, there was a different music score developed for this film when it was first shown by Janus films in the 1960s. German composer Konrad Elfers developed a Jazz Age score which is indeed more coherent than the score that you hear on this current release. This current score is very dissonant and is not particularly enjoyable to listen to. It's a shame that the Elfer's score isn't offered as an option. Because of that, I would give this film four and not five stars.
on October 19, 2003
I am became interested in this film largely because of its director Fritz Lang. I had always enjoyed Metropolis (I now own the Kino release which is nothing short of breath taking in the quality). I began to read about the evil doctor and I was hooked by the concept of the narrative. So dark and given its timing so right in the context of a Weimar Germany.
I must admit that slient films require the viewer to see the film from a different context as compared to modern cinema. However, if one makes that adjustment the rewards are worth it.
Many of the other reviews do an excellent job of discussing the plot and the like so in the context I will not go into any detail other than to say it may well in total be a 4 hour experience but it DOES NOT feel like it. This is one of my favourite pieces of cinema. I think much of garbage coming out of Hollywood could learn much from a thriller such as this.
David Kalat's narration is fantastic, and so are the other Mabuse films he has reviewed. Like all great teachers you never feel as if you are being educated but being entertained.
Bravo on the DVD and Bravo to David.
on June 12, 2015
The Eureka! UK Blu-ray is locked to Region B (Europe):
For those considering the Eureka! Blu-ray, it's a UK release and is locked to Region B (Europe). It will NOT play in the Region A Blu-ray players normally sold in North America. The player must be an "All Region" or "Region Free" Blu-ray player. DVD region-free isn’t sufficient. It must also be Blu-ray region-free which is typically a modest additional cost option. I have a secondary region-free player I keep set to Region B just for films like this (usually from the UK) that have not been released on Blu-ray in Region A. It wasn't that expensive.
Desirability of the Eureka! UK Blu-ray:
Part 1 is 2:35 (155 min) and Part 2 is 1:56 (116 min) in length, for a 4:31 (271 min) total run time, from the Murnau Foundation restoration (more about that below). To my knowledge this is the most complete version on Blu-ray or DVD. There is a 297 minute version owned by the Goethe Institute, but as far as I know it has not been transferred to DVD or Blu-ray. Other releases, particularly the US DVDs, are considerably shorter. Among the USA released DVDs, the Kino Lorber is 242 minutes and the Image Entertainment is 229 minutes. There has not been a US or Canada Blu-ray of this movie, in any of its run lengths. The Eureka! release is the most most complete on home video, and it’s a 2-disc Blu-ray set. I’m do not know how much more the additional 26 minutes of the Goethe Institute version enhances the story. All the necessary elements are present in the 271 minute Murnau version without any gaps, continuity problems or plot holes.
The complexity of the plot is amazing for a 1922 silent, with the intricacy of Dr. Mabuse’s machinations in conducting his criminal activities, concealing his identity and preventing anyone from following him. Dr. Mabuse is the German version of Moriarty, a genius master criminal with a large network of devoted minions. “Gambler” refers to more than just games of chance, it encompasses taking risks with everything in his life and with the lives of others around him. He is a psychoanalyst who can Mesmerize people across a room to manipulate their behavior through the power of telepathic suggestion. His criminal enterprise includes counterfeiting, manipulating the stock market, controlling casino card game player behavior, and inducing people to harm themselves or others. He is also a master of disguise and impersonation, using this skill to evade identification and being followed, and to prevent his victims, the local prosecutor and police from deducing numerous criminal acts have all been committed by the same man. While disguised as a stage performer, his playbill claims demonstration of mass suggestion, waking hypnosis, trance, “natural magnetism”, the secrets of Indian fakirs, the secrets of inner life and the subconscious in humans and animals. Dr. Mabuse is the consummate, omnipotent, omnipresent gangster. He is anyone anywhere, and nobody nowhere, confounding all law enforcement efforts to gather evidence of his crimes and identify him. Following the complex Rube Goldberg type ruses he uses simply to get into his counterfeiting lair with its blind workers packaging freshly printed notes is entertainment in itself. Throughout, there is no end of twists, turns and surprises as the number of Dr. Mabuse’s victims climbs and he eludes the local criminal prosecutor. Ultimately Dr. Mabuse is unmasked. With his numerous attempts to eliminate the local prosecutor foiled and his immediate lieutenants eliminated by the authorities, he is cornered and out of escape plans. Getting from the beginning of the movie to the ultimate end of Dr. Mabuse is a labyrinth of deception with a cat and mouse pursuit keeping the local prosecutor at bay just one step behind him until the final few minutes.
Restoration used for the Eureka! UK Blu-ray:
The Murnau Foundation made considerable effort to restore this two part epic to its original full length, including correcting and reinserting all the intertitle cards. Unlike "Metropolis" and some other Fritz Lang silents, there was no score specifically written for this film when it was produced. The music track was composed as part of the restoration. The goal was providing period music that supported the story as it unfolded. In my opinion it was highly successful. Source material quality varies throughout with some sections showing more degradation than others. The transfer is excellent, but limited by the condition of the two negatives used in the restoration. Overall, you likely see what a movie-goer would have seen after the reels had been played a few times, but not yet worn out. A "wet gate" process with fluid having the same refraction index as the film emulsion was used to do the digital scan. The result was many nicks and scratches being concealed. Grain, lighting variation and frame edge falloff are what I would expect from a B&W German silent production in the immediate post-WWI early 1920's. It looks rough compared to films made ten years later with dramatic technological improvements in all aspects of production. Most parts of the movie are not improved much over what could be done with DVD. The source negatives do not have that level of image resolution. The value of the Blu-ray is not in a high-res rendition, it’s in containing the 271 minute run length and the extra features about the Dr. Mabuse character, the director, Fritz Lang, and the restoration process.
Pacing will not be what you find in talking films with similar genre and subject matter. It's going to be slowed some by the necessity of inserting intertitle cards with the dialog, and even then, story pacing then wasn't what it is today. We get to savor the characters and their environs as the story unfolds. That said, the pacing, in spite of its epic length, is a little faster than most other early 1920's silents. The acting may seem high melodrama and overdone by today's standards, but was also necessary to compensate for limited dialog on the intertitles. In that regard, it's well directed and the acting physically delivers dialog that isn't on the intertitles.
Five stars for a Fritz Lang silent materpiece.