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The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Seymour Nebenzal
Written by Thea von Harbou
Fritz Lang
Starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Otto Wernicke
Oscar Beregi Sr.
Gustav Diessl
Music by Hans Erdmann
Cinematography Karl Vash
Fritz Arno Wagner
Edited by Conrad von Molo
Lothar Wolff
Distributed by Nero Film
Release date
France:
1933
United States:
1943
Germany:
August 24, 1961
Running time
122 minutes
Country Germany
Language German

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (German: Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse) is a 1933 German crime film directed by Fritz Lang. The film is a sequal to Lang's silent film Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and features many members of the cast and crew from his previous films. The film stars Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr. Mabuse who is in an insane asylum where he is found frantically writing out his testament of crime. When Mabuse's documents begin to occur, Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) tries to find the solution with clues from gang member Thomas Kent, the institutionalized Hofmeister and Dr. Kramm who becomes obsessed with Dr. Mabuse.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was based of elements of author Norbert Jacques' novel Mabuse's Colony. Working many cast and crew members from his previous films, it was Lang's second sound film for Nero Film and was his final collaboration between his wife and screenwriter Thea von Harbou. To promote the film to a foreign market, a French-language version of the film was made by Lang with the same sets but different actors under the title of Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse.

With the rise of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels became head of the Ministry of Propaganda and banned the film in Germany, suggesting that the film would undercut the audiences confidence in it's political leaders. The French-language and German-language versions of the film were released in Europe while several versions of the film were released in the United States to mixed reception with each re-release. The sequel The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse was released in 1960 which was also directed by Lang. Modern reception to the film is favorable with critics while the film has gone on to influence filmmakers including Claude Chabrol and Artur Brauner.

Plot[edit]

In a noisy print shop, the disgraced police detective named Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) escapes from pursing criminals attacks. Hofmeister phones his former superior Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) and frantically explains that he has discovered a huge criminal conspiracy. Before disclosing the identity of responsible criminal, the lights go out and shots are fired and Hofmeister driven to madness. Hofmeister vanishes only to be later found singing every time he feels watched, and is institutionalized at Professor Baum's asylum.

Professor Baum (Oscar Beregi, Sr.) introduces the parallel case of Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), the master criminal and hypnotist who ten years earlier went mad. Mabuse spends his days writing detailed plans for crimes while a criminal gang is committing crimes according to "the plans of the Doctor" with whom they confer only from behind a curtain. When Baum's colleague Dr. Kramm (Theodor Loos) by chance discovers that recent crimes mirror Mabuse's writings, Kramm ends up shot by the gang's execution squad, Hardy and Bredow. A clue sketched in glass at Hofmeister's crime scene lead Lohmann to suspect Mabuse's. On arrival at the asylum, Baum reveals that Mabuse has died. When Lohman disparagingly talks about Mabuse the criminal, Baum emphatically speaks about referring to "Mabuse the genius".

Baum continues to study Mabuse's writings and appears to confer with ghostly visage of Dr. Mabuse. The spirit of Mabuse speaks about an "unlimited reign of crime" and merge with the Professor's silhouette. On the same night, the hidden Mabuse confers with sections of his organisation, preparing various crimes such as an attack on a chemical plant, robbing a bank, counterfeiting, poisoning water and destroying harvests. One of the gang members, Thomas Kent (Gustav Diessl) is torn between his criminal work, to which he was driven by his need for money and his love for a young woman named Lilli (Wera Liessem). On a chance meeting with Lilli, Kent confesses his past and his current situation to her. The two decide to inform the police but are abducted by the and are locked in the Mabuse meeting room with the curtain. The hidden Mabuse announces their death when they discover that the curtain only contains a loudspeaker and that a time-bomb. After several escape attempts have failed, they flood the place and break free.

Meanwhile the police are besieging a flat where several gang members, including Hardy and Bredow, are staying. After a shootout, Hardy commits suicide while the other gangsters surrender. As Bredow testifies that they assassinated Dr. Kramm in the vicinity of the asylum, Lohman arranges a confrontation between the gangsters and the Professor, which proves inconclusive. On Kent and Lilli's arrival. Baum's shocked reaction to Kent's makes Lohman suspicious. Lohmann and Kent visit the asylum, where they discover that Baum is the man behind the curtain and has planned an attack on a chemical plant tonight. Lohmann and Kent go to the exploding plant where they discover Baum watching from afar. Baum flees to the asylum with Lohmann and Kent in hot pursuit. Mabuse's spirit leads Baum to Hofmeister in his cell were he introduces himself as Dr. Mabuse, breaking Hofmeister's from his shock. Baum tries to kill Hofmeister but is stopped by guards, just as Lohmann and Kent arrive. The final scene shows the insane Baum in the cell, tearing Mabuse's writings to shreds.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Norbert Jacques wrote the original Dr. Mabuse books in the style of other popular thrillers in Europe at the time, such as Nick Carter, Fantomas, and Fu Manchu. Jacques expanded on the traits of these books to include critiques on Weimar Germany. In 1930, Jacques was approached by a film producer to develop a new story for a new Dr. Mabuse film with a female villain. This lead Jacques to writing a new novel called Mabuse's Colony. In the novel, a character named Frau Kristine obtains a copy of Mabuse's Testament which outlines plans for a future world of terrorism and crime that Christina follows.[1]

At this time, Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou were developing M. Von Harbou and Lang were friends with Jacques since creating the first Mabuse film Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler and went on vacation with each other. Lang asked Jacques for help with the screenplay for M and asked for suggestions for a new Mabuse project.[1] Jacques sent Lang his unfinished work on Mabuse's Colony. Lang attached himself to the idea of Mabuse's will from the story and began working on an outline to what would become The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.[1]

Following the outline that Lang proposed, Jacuqes signed a contract on July 1931 for the film to be written by Von Harbou and directed by Lang based on Lang's own outline.[2] The film was released in tandum with Jacque's book, there is no credit for Jacques's story in credits. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is both a sequel to Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and M as it features characters from both films.[1]

Pre-production[edit]

Many members of the cast and crew worked with Lang previously on his earlier films. Rudolf Klein-Rogge returned to play Dr. Mabuse as he did in Dr. Mabuse the Gambler. Klein-Rogge appeared worked with Lang on his earlier films Destiny, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis and Spies.[1][3] Otto Wernicke reprises his role as Inspector Lohmann from Lang's M. Klaus Pohl plays Lohmann's assistant Muller. Pohl was also in Lang's Woman in the Moon and in an uncredited role in M.[1]

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was Lang's second film for Nero Films and producer Seymour Nebenzal. The film would be the last film collaboration between Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou who had worked with Lang on all his directorial efforts. Lang's relationship with von Harbou was falling apart and two would file divorce papers in 1933.[1] Cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner returned to work with Lang. Their film credits together include M, Spies, and Destiny.[4][5][6]

Filming[edit]

Lang filmed The Testament of Dr. Mabuse at the end of 1932 and the beginning of 1933 desiring to have the film viewed worldwide. In Lang's film where gun play, fires, or explosions are needed, Lang often resorted to using real weapons. In the opening scene during a power out, a stunt actor is brought in to do the gun play. Cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner stated that he spent most of the production in a state of panic due to the extreme lengths that Lang would endanger his crew.[1] The film is generally shot in a realistic style with exception of Mabuse's ghostly appearances throughout the film. Lang admitted later in interviews that if he could re-do the film, he would not have made these supernatural scenes.[7]

Fritz Arno Wagner shot the explosion scenes at the factory on location during the night. These explosions scenes were the first scenes in the film to be shot before returning to the studio to film the rest. The film crew had three weeks to prep for the shoot by clearing trees and bringing in some artificial trees to match Lang's vision for the shot. The explosion in the film was triggered by Lang himself.[1]

In the early days of sound film before dubbing and subtitling one way to showcase a film to a foreign audience was to record the film with a translated screenplay with foreign language cast. As this was a time consuming and expensive procedure, most filmmakers who did this tended to only make one alternative feature. Producer Seymour Nebenzal felt that creating this alternative version would enhance international sales. Lang was fluent in French and directed The Testament of Dr. Mabuse in both French and German. Actor Karl Meixner played Hofmeister in both versions of the film as he was bilingual. Rudolf Klein-Rogge also stars as Mabuse in the French version with his lines being dubbed.[8] The French version titled Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse was edited by Lothar Wolff in France while the film was still in production.[9]

Post-production[edit]

For the film, Lang comissioned a composer for the first time. Hans Erdmann created the opening theme and the music played during Professor Baum's descent into madness. The soundtrack in the film is deceptive.[1] Like M, the film's music and sound are a subtle mix of actual silence with accompanying music and more or less realistic sound effects.[10]

The Russian release of Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler was edited by future director Sergei Eisenstein. Film historian Lotte H. Eisner has incorrectly stated that Eisenstein edited the film for Russian release only to place it back together exactly as it was originally. Eisenstein's version is shorter then Lang's film.[1] Lang worked with his German editor Conrad von Molo directly on the post-production process. Lang was known for making very long films and to suit foreign tastes, editor Lothar Wolff was contracted to shorten the French-language version. This version cuts parts from the romantic sub-plot between Lilli and Kent.[8]

Release[edit]

The film was scheduled for release on March 24 1933 at the UFA-Palast am Zoo, the same theater that hosted the original premiere of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler in 1922. Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933 and on March 14, Hitler established the new Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda headed by Joseph Goebbels. Lang was not finished editing the film, and would not have a print for Goebbels to view until March 23. After a screening for Goebbels, he declared that the premiere would be delayed for technical reasons. Goebbels hosted a meeting at his home between himself, Lang and several other German filmmakers on discussions on what qualified as quality Nazi film making pointing out Lang's films as the style of film Hitler had in mind. By March 30, the Ministry of Propaganda banned The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as a menace to public health and safety. Goebbels problem with the film was that at the end Mabuse goes mad suggesting a state that couldn't contain the threat and would undercut the audiences confidence in it's leaders. In the 1940s Lang stated that a meeting took place between Goebbels and himself with Goebbels wanted Lang to work for him to create films for the Nazis which led to Lang to leave from Germany to France that very night. Goebbels' diary makes no mention of such a meeting and Lang's passport also shows that he didn't leave until June and made repeated trips between France and Germany throughout 1933.[1]

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse premiered on April 21, 1933 in Budapest, Hungary with a running time of 124 minutes.[11] The French-language version was distributed through Europe.[1] A subtitled version of the French version was released in 1943 under the title The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse in the United States.[1] In 1951, The German version was released in 75 minute cut under the title The Crimes of Dr.Mabuse with featured an English dub.[8] The English subtitles in the 1943 release and the 1952 dub added allusions to Adolf Hitler that were not part of the original script.[1] The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was first shown publicly in Germany on August 24, 1961 with a 111-minute running time.[11] In 1973, the unedited German version of the film was released in the United States with the title The Testament of Dr. Mabuse with English subtitles.[1]

Reception[edit]

In 1938, Goebbels wrote that on looking at the film that he was "struck by the dullness of its portrayal, the coarseness of it's construction, and the inadequacy of it's acting." Despite Goebbels statement, he would present the film uncensored time to time in private screening rooms for close personal friends. [12] On the French release, The New York Times wrote that "It is the French version of Fritz Lang's production, "Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse" ("Dr. Mabuse's Will"). It is a hallucinating and horrifying story, depicted with great power and the extraordinary beauty of photography that Lang has led his admirers to expect."[13] At the Hungarian premiere of the German-language print, Variety wrote that the film "...certainly shows the influence of American mystery pictures. The story is very long-winded and even an ingenious director like Fritz Lang could not prevent its being rather slow-moving in places."[14]

Bosley Crowther wrote a negative review in The New York Times on the films 1943 release, stating "it is a good, old film, well played and beautifully directed—but a battered antique, none the less."[15] On the 1973 re-release, The New York Times wrote a positive review of the film, stating that it "...yields a sensational torrent of images that almost make the early nineteen-seventies seem tame." and "While this "Mabuse" lacks most of the surrealistic effects and the dazzling hallucinations that gave its predecessor such magic, it's rich in the images and the shocks at which Lang excelled."[16] Modern of the film has been generally positive. Channel 4 gave the film four stars out of five describing the film as a "Sensational crime drama" and an "important, controversial work from one of cinema's great early masters is more than a mere museum piece - it's also spellbinding entertainment."[17][18] TV Guide gave the film a five out of five star rating calling it "a haunting, suspenseful sequel".[19] Critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three and a half stars out of four and compared it to Dr. Mabuse The Gambler stating that it is "less stylized but no less entertaining".[20] The online film database Allmovie rated the film four stars out five, stating that by "mixing several genres including cop drama, mystery, and horror, Lang created a rare hybrid picture full of striking characters and images."[21]

Legacy[edit]

After the film's initial release, producer Seymour Nebenzal used scenes from the car chase in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse in his own production of Le roi des Champs-Élysées (1934) starring Buster Keaton. Producer Artur Brauner cited the Dr. Mabuse films as the reason he went into the film industry, noting that he left his parents out in the middle of the night and returned after seeing what he described as "the most exciting film I've ever seen". Brauner later bought the rights to the Dr. Mabuse films and hired Fritz Lang to film a sequel titled The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. The film was released in 1960 and was Lang's final film as a director.[1] In 1962, a remake of The Testament of Dr.Mabuse was released by director Werner Klingler.[22]

Brauner produced several other Mabuse films after the release of The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. Director Claude Chabrol identified The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as his primary inspiration to become a filmmaker. Chabrol made his own Mabuse inspired film that was released in 1990 under the title of Dr. M.[1]

Home media[edit]

A Region 1 DVD of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was released by The Criterion Collection on May 18, 2004. This DVD release contains two discs and contains both the German-language and French-language versions of the film. Film critic Dave Kehr wrote the German print is "is unquestionable the definite version".[23][24] The German print of the film on the DVD is missings small parts of the film and runs at 121 minutes.[11] A Region 2 DVD of the film was released by Eureka! in a box set titled The Complete Fritz Lang Box Set. This set included the two other Mabuse film's directed by Lang, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse.[25]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Kalat, David (2004). DVD Commentary (DVD). New York City, United States: The Criterion Collection. 
  2. ^ Kalat, 2005. p.80
  3. ^ "Rudolf Klein-Rogge: Filmography". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Destiny: Production credits". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Spies:Production credits". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  6. ^ "M:Production credits". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  7. ^ Kalat, 2005. p.81
  8. ^ a b c Kalat, David (2004). The Three Faces of Dr. Mabuse (DVD). New York City, United States: The Criterion Collection. 
  9. ^ Kalat, 2005. p.70
  10. ^ Wierzbicki, 2008. p.101
  11. ^ a b c The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Booklet:About the Transfer) (Media notes). New York City, USA: The Criterion Collection. 2004.  Unknown parameter |director= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |publisherid= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |titleyear= ignored (help)
  12. ^ Kalat, 2005. p.78
  13. ^ Matthews, Herbert L. (June 11, 1933). "Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933) The Cinema in Paris; " La Dame de Chez Maxim" as an Audible Film -- M. Epstein's Latest Work". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2009.  line feed character in |title= at position 36 (help)
  14. ^ "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse". Variety. 1933. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  15. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 20, 1943). "The Screen; A Bequest". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  16. ^ Sayre, Nora (December 6, 1973). "Lang's 'Testament of Dr. Mabuse,' at Cultural Center Tomorrow:The Cast". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  17. ^ "The Testament Of Dr Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse) Review". Channel 4. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  18. ^ "The Testament Of Dr Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse) Review". Channel 4. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  19. ^ "The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse". TV Guide. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  20. ^ Maltin, 2001. p.1372
  21. ^ Legare, Patrick. "Review: The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  22. ^ Crow. Johnathan. "Overview: Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  23. ^ Seibert, Perry. "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse [2 Disc][Criterion Collection]". Allmovie. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  24. ^ Kehr, David (May 18, 2004). "New DVD's; Spaghetti Western (No Meatballs)". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2009. 
  25. ^ "Catalogue". The Masters of Cinema. Retrieved November 8, 2009.  Text " The Masters of Cinema Series" ignored (help)

References[edit]

External links[edit]