Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Rudolph Klein Rogge, Aud Egede Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Bernhard Goetzke, Paul Richter, Robert Forster-Larrinaga, Alfred Abel
Based of a novel by Norbert Jacques

Even though many silent films are regarded as classics these days, it’s worth noting that many of these films still share a lot in common with your typical B-grade and exploitation picture. Both feature sex and violence, sexism and subjugation, nipples and nudity (remember this is before the Hays Code) and most of all, a desire to put as many bums on cinema seats, and make as much filthy lucre as possible.

One of the most lauded directors of the twentieth Century was Fritz Lang, and many of his films are considered the finest examples of cinema ever created. Lang’s masterpiece, Metropolis has been in the headlines quite a bit recently after a complete print of the film was found in Buenos Aires. Prior to this though, Lang directed another of his triumph’s, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. Unlike Metropolis, which was a flop, and was subsequently butchered, Dr. Mabuse was a massive hit. It could be considered The Lord Of The Rings of its day. There was a huge advertising campaign leading up to the film’s release. Norbert Jacques’ novel, on which the film was based, was serialised for magazines, and the novel was released twice in hardback and paperback. There was a great deal of public awareness about the Mabuse character.

Another comparison between Dr. Mabuse and The Lord Of The Rings (the book) is in the way it was originally presented. The argument still rages, is The Lord Of The Rings three books or is it in fact nine books? Similarly, people cannot decide if Dr. Mabuse (the film) is one long film, or two films. There is no doubt that the film was shown in two parts as The Great Gambler (which first screened on April 27, 1922) and Inferno (premiering on May 26, 1922). But every source I look up, seems to have differing opinions. Some poorly researched sources, even imply that they are three different films. In the end though, with the DVD age upon us, what does it really matter? If you want to watch it all in one sitting – go ahead. With a running time of between 242 and 297 minutes (depending on the version you’re watching), I feel a break is required.

With a film of this age, many reviews tend to look at the restoration of the film, or even the multitude of DVD releases available. I guess this is understandable as so much has been written about director Fritz Lang and Dr. Mabuse. Covering such a well respected director and well documented series of films almost seems like an exercise in futility. But you’ve got to go with what you love, and by now, my penchant for spy films is well documented (mostly by me). So is Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler a spy film? The short answer is no. But in the Mabuse character, a lot of the seeds for the villain in films from the great sixties spy boom were sewn. In Mabuse, we have a master of disguise, whose almost super human powers allow him to control an evil organisation, that in the confines of the universe created for the film, attempts nothing short of world domination.

Mabuse’s progeny is Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE, Tung Tse and Big O, and many of the operatives of THRUSH. Even Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers films is the bastard child of Mabuse. Naturally, I could branch off onto a tangent about the role of the Mad Doctor or Mad Scientist in cinema – but I’ll leave this for another day.

Dr. Mabuse: The Great Gambler – A Picture Of Our Time
Dr. Mabuse (Rudolph Klein Rogge – yeah, he was Rotwang in Metropolis) looks at a selection of photographs, which appear to be different men. But each of them is Mabuse in different disguises. He shuffles the photographs, as if they were a deck of cards. He chooses a photo from the deck. It is an old man. He hands the photo to his valet, Spoerri (Robert Forster-Larrinaga) It is Spoerri’s job to transform Mabuse into the old man in the photo. But Spoerri’s mind isn’t on the job. He is a cocaine addict and pretty rattled. Mabuse warns that if he catches Spoerri in such a state again, he will drive him out like a dog.

Meanwhile a steam train rattles along the tracks. Onboard, in a compartment, a man is carrying a commercial coffee contract between the Swiss and the Dutch. Also in the compartment is a scruffy looking workman who is dozing in the corner. At exactly twenty-five minutes past eight, the sleeping workmen, who happens to be one of Dr. Mabuse’s henchmen, awakens and stands to stretch his tired limbs. Then he pounces on the courier, snatches the contract and hurls it out the window, as the train crosses over a bridge. At that exact moment, another of Mabuse’s henchmen drives his car under the bridge and the contract lands in the back seat. Obviously the theft has be planned and timed to perfection.

While the robbery has been taking place, Spoerri has been completing Mabuse’s metamorphosis. Now with the countenance of an old man, Mabuse gets into his car, and is chauffeured into town. At a ‘T’ intersection, another car runs into his, rendering it useless. The other car though, is fine. The driver of that vehicle offers to drive the irate Mabuse to his destination. What seemed like an accident was actually planned too. The car that Mabuse is transferred to, is the car with the stolen contract inside. Mabuse reads the contract, and then gives orders that the briefcase is to be found intact, half an hour before the close of the stock exchange.

Next through the winding city streets and back lanes, we see the same car. It stops at a street corner and a drunkard practically falls from the vehicle. The car races off as the drunk staggers along a path, using the wall to hold himself up. The drunk though, as you may have already guessed, is Mabuse in one of his cunning disguises. He stops at a building and is abused by an old women sitting at the front. She throws a ball of knitting yarn at him. Hidden inside the ball is the key to Mabuse’s top secret counterfeiting works. Inside a forger is running off dollar notes, and a team of blindmen are counting and bundling the fake money.

Back at the stock exchange, news is breaking about the stolen coffee contract. It is feared that the Swiss will pull out of the deal if the contents of the contract are revealed. The rumours cause Dutch coffee prices to plunge. Everybody begins to panic, and tries to rid themselves of their quickly diminishing stock – all except one man, Sternberg. Once the price bottoms out – he buys!

Then with only half an hour till the stock exchange closes, a report comes in that the secret contract has been found – unbroken – by a railroad attendant. The contract is subsequently returned to the Swiss consulate. The Dutch coffee prices begin to rise again – sharply. On this day, Sternberg has made an absolute killing on the stock market. Sternberg, of course, is actually Dr. Mabuse, in another of his clever disguises.

The second act opens with Dr. Mabuse chairing a lecture about psychoanalysis. After the lecture, the story cuts to the Folies Bergeres. Here we have a sequence encompassing two themes that Lang frequently explored and revisited over his career. The first is voyeurism, and the second is surveillance. In the scene, a drunken male crowd leers at a female striptease artist as she performs. The sequence is repeated in Metropolis when mechanical Maria performs a Mata Hari style dance. In both instances, Lang really plays on the ugly voyeuristic side, showing the men viewing the show as drunk lecherous men. Mabuse is different from the other men. He doesn’t leer. He sits in a booth at the back, watching. Rather than witnessing a performance, Mabuse is watching the crowd. it’s almost like surveillance. In fact, in Lang’s last film, The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse, the eyes are not his evil minions out on the streets, but a series of cameras he has hidden in a hotel.

At this point we are introduced to Miss Cara Carozza (Aud Egede Nissen). She is a dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Mabuse is watching her perform. But as I said, it’s more like surveillance. He is in fact watching, and sizing up his next victim, Edgar Hull (Paul Richter). Using his mind control techniques, Mabuse convinces Hull to go to the Pontoon Club and engage in a friendly game of cards. At the club, as the game progresses, Mabuse sends out telepathic signals so Hull tosses away winning hands, and keeps losing cards. Meanwhile it is revealed that Cara Carozza, the dancer, is one of Dr. Mabuse’s evil minions. In her dressing room after the show, she receives orders to go to the Excelsior Hotel and await further instructions.

Hull loses a filthy amount of money at the card table. Under Mabuse’s power of suggestion, he plays and bets recklessly, even when he has a winning hand. Eventually he loses 170,000 marks to Mabuse. Hull does not have the cash on him, so he arranges to meet Mabuse later so he can repay his debt. Mabuse hands Hull a business card, with a fake name and an address at the Excelsior Hotel.

Later, Hull goes to the Hotel to repay his outstanding gambling debt. In the room that Mabuse said that he was staying in, there is another man with a hangover. He has no knowledge of the debt. Hull leaves, relieved that he does not have to shell out his cash, but on his way out of the building, he meets Cara Carozza. This meeting is not a co-incidence. Soon Hull and Carozza are an item – but as we know dear reader, the strings are secretly being pulled by Mabuse.

State Prosecutor von Wenk (Berhard Goetzke) is investigating illegal gambling in the city. It seems that Hull isn’t the only innocent young aristocrat to have lost an obscene amount of money in unusual and in an ‘out of character’ fashion. Von Wenk, in an attempt to catch the ‘unknown’ fiend who is behind the spate of gambling crimes, enlists the help of Cara Carozza. From her he obtains a list of all the illegal gambling dens. Another ally that von Wenk collects along the way, is Countess Dusy Told (Gertrude Welcker). The Countess is a bored rich housewife. Very little in life excites her, as she has everything. She attempts to add excitement to her dreary life by spending each evening out at the city’s nightclubs and gambling dens. She offers to help von Wenk – but maybe not because she has a social conscience, but because she craves drama and excitement.

On the third night of his investigation, von Wenk comes into contact with Mabuse in an illegal gambling den, but neither man recognises the other as they are both in disguise. After von Wenk pulls a huge wad of cash from his pocket and places it on the table, he becomes Mabuse’s target for the evening. Mabuse attempts to use his hypnotic powers on von Wenk, but he isn’t a weak minded fool like many other of Mabuse’s victims. Mabuse’s attempt at mind control leaves him drained and he almost collapses. He leaves the game and the table. Von Wenk chooses to follow. He trails him to the Hotel Excelsior, where Mabuse makes a quick change and escapes once more. But before leaving, Mabuse arranges for one of his minions to pose as a taxi driver and collect the State Prosecutor as he leaves the building.

In the taxi, Mabuse’s evil minion gasses von Wenk who passes out. When von Went awakens he finds himself, minus all personal possessions, in a small wooden dingy in the middle of a lake. As von Wenk awaits rescue, Mabuse goes through von Wenk’s notebooks and other personal effects. Inside the notebook, Mabuse discovers how close the State Prosecutor has come to tracking him down and stopping his operation. He orders both von Wenk and Edgar Hull assassinated. Luring both men to their doom is Cara Carozza.

Of course, as we have seen, Mabuse doesn’t do his own dirty work, and rather than participate in the assassination he is to attend a seance being held by Countess Dusy Told. The seance is another attempt to break away from the mundane life that she lives. At the seance Mabuse becomes entranced by her free spirit. Seances, and the occult appear to be another of Fritz Lang’s interests. In the films Ministry Of Fear and The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse, Lang uses seances as the setting for assassination attempts on some of the principal characters. But nothing quite so sinister here. In fact, it is the beginning of Mabuse’s infatuation with Dusy Told. And as part one comes to a close, Mabuse kidnaps Dusy Told and takes her back to his lair.

What happens to von Wenk and Hull…ahhhh, that would be telling! You don’t want me to reveal all the story do you?

The first hour of this production absolutely rattles along, but then after that the story begins to crawl. As von Wenk begins his investigation, the story becomes very ‘talky’, which is not ideal in a silent movie. Watching the characters stand still and mouth great chunks of dialogue, and then waiting for the intertitle translation does become tiresome. Sure, there still some of Lang’s fantastic trademark visuals and extraordinary set design, but they don’t compensate for the sluggish story line.

Dr. Mabuse: Inferno – Men Of Our Time
The second part opens with a few flash backs to the end of part one, and then it focuses on Count and Countess Told. The Countess, of course, in now the prisoner of Dr. Mabuse. The Count, on the other hand, has no idea what has happened to his wife. He believes she has left him because he cheated at cards one night. In a distraught state, Count Told seeks the help of a psychiatrist to assist him with his problems. He chooses to see Dr. Mabuse. Mabuse toys with the Count and insists that he does not see anyone from the outside world, which the Count agrees to. Once cut off, the Count slips deeper into depression. The manipulation continues, and once Count Told is at his lowest ebb, Mabuse suggests that he cannot live any longer. The Count takes his own life, leaving Mabuse as the only suitor for Countess Dusy Told’s affections. Unfortunately, she does not share Mabuse’s feelings, and wishes to leave.

Mabuse’s obsession with Dusy Told slowly leads to his undoing. After the Count’s death, he is one of the major suspects, and when he attempts to kill those who get too close, the net tightens. Eventually the police and the army surround his hideout and shoot it out. One by one, Mabuse’s minions fall, and the mad Doctor decides to leg it. No doubt, you will have noticed that if you look at the Doctor’s name, it contains ‘ABUSE’. I am hardly an expert on language, but it seems an interesting co-incidence to me. First the character starts by abusing those around him, and then, once he becomes involved with Dusy Told, it could be argued that his actions turn to ‘self abuse’. It is he, who gave the police the information and clues to track him down. If he’d stayed out of it, and kept committing the cold clinical crimes, like at the beginning of the film, most likely he’d still be at large. But the man in the final frames of this movie is a very different being. After Dusy Told has been freed by the police, and his criminal empire destroyed, Mabuse has quite literally gone insane…haunted by the ghosts of the people whose lives he has destroyed.

There are two kinds of villains in this world. The first looks to improve his position in the world by obtaining wealth and/or power. Fu Manchu, Diabolik and Kriminal all fit into this category. Then there’s your villain who is just plain evil. They want to destroy the world and then rule the ashes. Villains like Fantomas and Dr. Mabuse are from this school. And like Fantomas, and all great screen villains, Dr. Mabuse would rise again, again and again. The first follow-on film, The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (1933) was also directed by Fritz Lang and starred Rudolph Klein Rogge. It is considered a classic. Many years later, as mentioned previously, Lang also returned to the character for the film The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960). This would be Lang’s last film as director as his eyesight was failing. Harald Reinl took over the reins for The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961), but by now the films had been dumbed down into standard crime dramas (Krimi). Next came The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962), then a remake of The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse, Scotland Yard Vs. Dr. Mabuse, and The Death Ray Mirror Of Dr. Mabuse. Each of these films has many versions and many alternate names, but these are your core films. There are a few other foreign productions which feature the Mabuse character. One film that continues to elude me, is Jess Franco’s Spanish The Vengeance Of Dr. Mabuse (1972) . Just the thought of Mabuse and Franco together makes me giddy. I know, one day when I finally do track down the film, I am going to be disappointed, but until then, in my mind it lives as a hypnotic, psychedelic ‘mind fuck’ that has the potential to be the greatest film ever made!

Even the bizarre horror film, Scream And Scream Again (1972) was released in Germany as The Living Corpses Of Dr. Mabuse – which means that Vincent Price was Dr. Mabuse – in my lopsided opinion anyway. But that is exactly as it should be – Dr. Mabuse can be anyone, and turn up anywhere. Although details are sketchy at this stage, it appears that Dr. Mabuse will plot to take over and destroy the world once more. On IMDB it lists a 2010 Dr. Mabuse film in production. And I for one, am looking forward to the madman’s return!

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960)

AKA: Diabolical Dr. Mabuse , Eyes of Evil, The Shadow vs. the Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
Directed by Fritz lang
Peter Van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Wolfgang Preiss, Lupo Prezzo, Gert Frobe, Werner Peters, Andrea Checci, Christiane Maybach, Howard Vernon
Music by Gerhard Becker and Bert Grund

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse was legendary director Fritz Lang’s last film. While making this film his sight began to fail. The film was also the beginning of a new series of Mabuse films, but with each instalment the series slowly deteriorated.

First a little bit of background on Dr. Mabuse. Mabuse was a character created in the early 20th Century by author Norbert Jacques. In 1922, Lang took the character and made two silent epic films, The Great Gambler and Inferno (Generally this two part series in lumped together as Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler). The films featured Rudolph Klein-Rogge as Mabuse, who is a master criminal, in the style of Fantomas or Fu Manchu. In 1933 Lang made another Mabuse film, The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse also starring Klein-Rogge. With the rise of the Nazi party, Lang left Germany and headed to the United States where his movie career continued. Decades later, although he refused to live there, Lang returned to Germany to make his final entry in the Mabuse series – The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse.

The film opens with two cars pulling up at a red traffic light in downtown Berlin. In one of the cars is Peter Barter, a television reporter. He is rushing back to the studio with an important ‘breaking’ story. In the other car are two of Mabuse’s henchmen. From a violin case, one of the men produces a futuristic gun. He takes aim at Barter and shoots. With barely a sound, a fine needle is fired into Barter’s brain. Barter slumps over the steering wheel dead.

Simultaneously, Peter Cornelius (Wolfgang Preiss), a blind psychic, has a premonition of the murder and phones Inspector Krause (Gert Frobe) in an attempt to warn him, but is too late. The crime has all the hallmarks and style of crimes committed by Dr. Mabuse, but this can not be because Mabuse has been dead since the 1930’s. But there is still a crime to be solved and it appears to be centred around the Luxor Hotel. It it the last place that Barter had been seen alive. Co-incidently (?), over the last ten years, a series of unsolved crimes, thefts and murder have had one thing in common. All of the victims have stayed at the Luxor.

Currently staying at the Luxor is Henry B. Travers (Peter Van Eyck). He is a wealthy American industrialist who has just purchased an atomic rocket contract. Outside his window, on the ledge is Marion Menil (Dawn Addams). She is distressed and about to commit suicide. Travers goes to the window and calmly talks her inside. It appears Marion is very unstable. It is not long before her doctor arrives, Professor Jordan. He gives her a sedative and takes her away.

Meanwhile, Inspector Krause is on the case. The driver of the assassin’s vehicle has called Krause and says he will call again with vital information. But the stooley is killed by one of Mabuse’s men. The telephone call is still made to Krause, because a bomb has been planted in his phone. The phone rings, but Krause’s assistant picks it up and is killed in the explosion.

With very few clues to go on, Klause turns to Cornelius, the psychic for help. Cornelius arranges a séance, and Krause invites the few suspects he has as participants. As the lights are dimmed, Cornelius starts channelling. He says that Dr. Mabuse is behind the crimes. Before any further information is revealed, the window is shattered as a bullet from outside hits Krause’s chair. It’s a close call. While stylistically very different, it is interesting to compare this séance scene with the one in Lang’s Ministry Of Fear, which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Who and what are The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse? They are not the evil minions of Mabuse (as in The Million Eyes Of Sumuru), but refer to a sophisticated closed circuit surveillance system that Mabuse has set up in the Hotel Luxor. After watching and stage managing events throughout the Hotel, by manipulating Travers, Mabuse plans to obtain the nuclear arsenal being constructed, and of course, rule, control or destroy the world. And that brings us to Mabuse himself. Who is or claims to be Mabuse? Ahhh, that would be telling. The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse is a bit of a ‘whodunnit’. Could Mabuse be nosey insurance salesman Hieronymus P. Mistelzweig (Werner Peters), Peter Cornelius the psychic, Professor Jordan (a man who specialises in mental disorders), or Marion’s obsessively jealous clubfooted husband. It could be any of them. Rarely has a film had so many characters who are not as they seem.

The film has some good ideas that would be recycled in espionage movies in years to come. I have already mentioned the closed circuit television system. But the needle gun used in the opening scene reminds me of a similar scene in Live And Let Die, and the getaway car that Mabuse uses to escape from the police has revolving number plates, a idea that would be utilised in the Aston Martin in Goldfinger.

Ultimately The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse is a good film; but I wouldn’t say it’s a great film. It has some memorable scenes, and as with all of Lang’s work there is some very impressive set design, especially the home of Peter Cornelius, whose walls are decorated with three dimensional astrological symbols. But the plot is a bit convoluted. Sure Mabuse is a criminal genius, but he seems to interfere with his own scheme way too often. Maybe that’s the characters madness coming through, but I think it may be poor story telling. And as a ‘whodunnit’, well I am pretty hopeless at guessing the culprit in this type of film – but I got it straight away (and so did my 11 year old son) – so it isn’t too effective on that level.

I am sounding a bit negative, but that is because this is a Lang film. This film is better than it’s sequels The Return Of Dr. Mabuse and The Invisible Dr. Mabuse which I reviewed in June, but it is a step down from some of the other Lang films I have looked at – Spies in August, and The Ministry Of Fear in October.

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960)

Spies (1928)

AKA: Spione
Directed by Fritz Lang
Rudolph Klein-Rogge, Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Lupu Pick, Fritz Rasp
New score composed by Donald Sasin

Spies is director Fritz Lang’s follow-up to the epic science fiction masterpiece Metropolis. Like Metropolis, Spies is also a silent film and if you watch the restored F.W. Murnau Foundation version, which comes in at 143 minutes, unless a student of cinema, you may find it a bit of a slog. That’s not to say that it is bad or boring, but it does take it’s time moving through the story, after branching off on various sub-plots. Despite this there are some amazing scenes – maybe not in Metropolis’ league, but impressive none-the-less. Even many of the less elaborate set designs are ground breaking, providing the blueprint for the spy films that would trail behind in the following decades.

At the centre of this film is the character Hagji, the villainous head of a criminal spy ring. Haghi is played by Rudolph Klein-Rogge who had played this type of role before for Lang, first in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and then as the mad scientist Rotwang in Metropolis. Haghi, although a super villain in the traditional sense, is wheelchair bound and has an evil henchwoman / nurse who pushes him around and physically oversees the operation.

The other two main characters are Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch), a good guy assigned to break Haghi’s spy ring, and Sonja (Gerda Maurus), who is Haghi’s most alluring, and ultimately dangerous operative. She is an old-school femme fatale.

Because she is evil, Sonja is sent to kill Agent 326. But what should happen? The two opposing agents fall in love. From that point on, Sonja refuses to carry out any more assignments for Haghi. Haghi is not happy and imprisons her at his secret headquarters (which happens to be a bank – with current interest rates, I find the idea that a bank should house the world’s ultimate villain quite amusing!)

This leaves Agent 326 to find and capture Haghi, and to rescue his imprisoned sweetheart. I make the story sound more straight forward than it is. There are quite a few subplots involving the Russians and the Japanese. Most of these merely show how evil and malevolent Haghi truly is. The demise of Japanese agent, Masimoto (Lupu Pick) is quite moving.

At the heart of this story is the love story, and in many ways it mirrors the lovers from the different levels in Metropolis. Only in this film, the lovers are not separated by different levels of society, but are separated by different ideologies. Also, this time it is the woman who sees the error of her ways, rather than the man.

As I mentioned at the top, Spies is a good film, but it won’t be for everyone. I think the key word for this film is ‘patience’. If you have the patience and are truly interested in the evolution of the spy film then here it is – the blueprint.

Spies (1928)

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

AKA: The Invisble Claws Of Dr. Mabuse
The Invisible Horror
Directed by Harald Reinl
Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Siegfried Lowitz, Wolfgang Preiss, Rudolph Fernau, Werner Peters
Music by Peter Sandloff

An appreciative audience has gathered at the Metropol Theatre to witness an Operetta. As the musical performance proceeds, in a viewing box at the back of the theatre, a set of binoculars follows the performers on stage – only these binoculars appear to be floating, as if an invisible man was holding them. No prizes for guessing who? So begins The Invisible Dr. Mabuse, a 1962 production, once again featuring Lex Barker as FBI agent Joe Como (Barker also appeared in The Return Of Dr. Mabuse, as Como). Como is a big lug. he seems to walk into more traps than he sets, but with sheer brute force, he manages to slug his way out of trouble.

Back at the Metropol; after the show, Nick Prado, an FBI agent snoops about backstage. One of Mabuse’s henchmen, Clown Bobo (Werner Peters – who managed to survive at the end of the last Dr. Mabuse picture) releases a trapdoor underneath the agent. The agent falls to a lower level of the theatre. Soon he is surrounded by Mabuse and his goons. We don’t actually see Mabuse; we see his shadow on a wall. The agent is questioned about the creatively titled ‘Operation X’. He says nothing and for his trouble is tortured and killed.

Mabuse’s henchmen dispose of the body clumsily on a wharf, and soon the police are involved. And in from America, the FBI send Joe Como to replace the dead agent. As the German connection, this time we don’t have Inspector Lohmann (maybe he finally got to go on his fishing trip?), and instead have Inspector Brahm (Siegfried Lowitz). Brahm is a bit more clandestine than his predecessor. He doesn’t have an office at police headquarters; he is located secretly at the back of an optometrist. Como immediately suspects Dr. Mabuse, but Brahm is skeptical. Everybody knows that Mabuse died at the end of the last film.

At the heart of this mystery, is ‘Operation X’, which is a top secret experiment being conducted by Professor Erasmus (Rudolph Fernau). Nobody has seen the professor in months because he keeps himself locked in his laboratory. No prizes for guessing what type of experiments he is working on. Yep, invisibility. And the authorities are now concerned that Mabuse (or some madman pretending to be Mabuse) has now acquired the Professor’s secret.

All the clues lead back to the Metropol theatre and seem to centre around the leading lady, Liane Martin (Karin Dor – Bond fans will remember her as the wicked Helga Brandt from You Only Live Twice“Mr. Osato believes in a healthy chest!”) In this picture she is the object of everyones affection and attention. Professor Erasmus has fallen in love with her and goes to see her perform every night. Dr. Mabuse wants her, because through her, he can control Erasmus. And finally Joe Como wants her because…well, he’s the star of the movie. the big lug has to get the girl at the end.

This movie (if you don’t mind old black and white films from Germany), is perfect popcorn fare. It has everything you could want, from punch-ups, gun play, a damsel in distress, mad scientists, and an invisible army of men attempting to change the fate of the world. There’s even a hint of Phantom Of The Opera to it, with much of the action taking place within the depths of the theatre. I enjoyed this very much, and although not to everyone’s taste, if this sounds like your cup of tea, I would recommend this entry in the Dr. Mabuse series.

Director Harald Reinl, scriptwriter Ladislas Fodor, and actors Karin Dor and Rudolph Furnau would work together again of the Bryan Edgar Wallace ‘krimi’, The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle, which too, is a great deal of fun.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961)

Directed by Harald Reinl
Gert Frobe, Lex Barker, Daliah Lavi, Fausto Tozzi, Wolfgang Preiss
Music by Peter Sandloff

An undercover police officer sits alone in a compartment on a train. A suitcase is chained to his wrist. He is transporting some valuable documents from the USA to Germany that incriminate the mob.

A handicapped man with a wooden leg enters the train compartment. The officer insists that he sits elsewhere as he is in a restricted compartment. The handicapped man complains that his wooden leg is causing him discomfort. The officer relents and allows him to be seated. Soon after, the train rushes through a tunnel (no sexual symbolism here). When the train exits the tunnel, both men are gone and the window is open.

Next we meet Inspector Lohmann (Gert Frobe – most people will recognise Frobe as Goldfinger, from the film of the same name). Lohmann is about to go on leave; an extended fishing trip. But as he is about to head off, wouldn’t you know it, the phone rings. Lohmann is called back to duty, to investigate the murder of the police officer whose body was found by the railroad tracks.

Lohmann’s investigations lead him to some interesting characters. The first is Joe Como (Lex Barker). Como is supposed to be an FBI agent sent to infiltrate the Mob. But he may be Nick Scapio, a Mafia hoodlum posing as Como. We also meet Maria Sabrehm (an incredibly youthful Daliah Lavi). She is the daughter of a scientist, who was falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Her father, Professor Sabrehm (Rudolph Forster), is now serving time in the local prison. That brings us to the prison doctor Bohmier, (Werner Peters), who have some unusual methods for rehabilitating the inmates.

What about Dr. Mabuse himself? He isn’t seen for most of the picture, but we hear his voice over the phone, and through microphones that seem to be planted all over the city. Somehow, Mabuse is controlling the inmates at the prison with an injection that turns them into mindless goons. Once the prisoners are attuned to Mabuse’s commands he sends them off, outside the prison walls, to do his bidding. In this instalment in the Mabuse series, his goal is to take over the cities nuclear power plant.

Initially Lohmann belies that the Warden is somehow involved in the crimes that are being committed in the name of Dr. Mabuse, but after the Warden’s car is blown up in the main street, his suspicions have to divert elsewhere.

This film features one great set piece, where Como and Maria are trapped in a generator room at the prison. Mabuse opens a series of water valves and the room begins to flood. We’ve all seen this scenario before (Espionage In Tangiers, springs to mind, and I seem to remember an episode of Get Smart, where Max was trapped in a phone booth that began to fill with water). But Como’s solution to this problem is better than most.

Another great element to this film is the music by Peter Sandloff. I must confess I don’t know much about Sandloff, but his hot stompin’ jazz score to this film is fantastic. There is a great catchy saxophone riff that once you have heard it, it will get stuck in your head for days.

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse is barely more than an amplified crime film, but it’s enigmatic villain, with his hidden microphones and cameras is clearly a Super Villain. He is one of the templates for the cinematic Blofelds of the world and is worthy of inclusion on this blogsite.

This film won’t please everyone, firstly because it is in German, so you’ll either have to watch a dubbed copy or read subtitles. Secondly it is in black and white. And third, by today’s standards, it is light on for action and the special effects, aren’t that special. But, if you are interested in the evolution of spy films to this day, this film will be of great interest, and provide solid entertainment. It may not be as canonical as some of the other Mabuse films, but it is definitely worth a look.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961)