"I think I was 11 years old when I first saw this film and now, 30 years later, it remains one of the most haunting cinematic experiences I've ever had. Some movies - like great art in any form - just don't seem to age. Everything one could wish for in a first-class thriller is here: complex plot and characters, fast-paced action, nail-biting suspense, brilliant photography, editing and direction together with some of the most suggestive scenes ever shown on the silver screen. The actors are good too (with a few minor exceptions), especially Otto Wernicke (reprising his role in "M") as Inspector Lohmann - the antithesis of the brutal and sadistic german officer/policeman so frequent in mainstream cinema. You have to go to Alfred Hitchcock's best works to find anything that surpasses this film.Made during the final chaotic months of the Weimar Republic by master director Fritz Lang ("Metropolis", "M") the movie was banned when the Nazis came to power in early 1933; it was to be Lang's last work before leaving Germany. He directed a string of films in Hollywood and though some of them were quite good he never managed to reach the heights of filmmaking he had done during his German period, mainly because the American studio system didn't give him the artistic freedom he had previously enjoyed.The plot revolves around the mysterious Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind invented by the German author Norbert Jacques and made famous by Lang's 1922 silent film "Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler". A decade later we find the notorious doctor locked away in an asylum. He hasn't spoken a word for ten years, instead he is writing his "testament", a detailed manual describing how to commit the most hideous crimes, crimes that serve no other purpose than to throw a law-abiding society into total chaos and anarchy. When the document starts to take concrete form in reality, Lohmann has to put the clues together in a most unusual and horrifying case...Now Criterion Collection has released this classic in an excellent two-disc edition. The film is presented - for the first time - in it's original length and aspect ratio with restored image and sound. Picture quality is very good; I've only seen two DVD-releases of movies from this period with a better image ("42nd Street" and "The Ghoul"). The picture is sharp and clear, almost without any specks or grain. Sound quality is worse, unfortunately. While spoken lines are clear enough the sound-track suffers from background noice, which in a few scenes (not any of the important ones, thank God) is very disturbing. I don't consider this a major problem though; the film is too captivating for that. The language is German with optional English subtitles (easy to read).
On the first disc - together with the film - is an insightful audio commentary by film historian David Kalat. Some might find it a bit academic, but he provides interesting information about - among other things - Lang's storytelling techniques (parallels can be found today in movies like "Pulp Fiction" and "The Usual Suspects") and points out that the film's theme - once a metaphor for the Nazi movement rising in power - can just as easily be applied to the current international political situation, regarding terrorism. The second disc contains the complete French-language version made simultaneosly by Lang with French actors, a couple of interviews with Lang, actor Rudolf Sch?ndler and German Mabuse expert Michael Farin, production design drawings and a collection of memorabilia, press books, stills and posters.Anyone even remotely interested in thrillers and/or movie history simply must see this film. Forget that it's German, forget that it's over 70 years old; "The testament of Dr. Mabuse" is a timeless proof of that you don't need a big budget and computorised special effects to create movie magic. With this edition Lang's final masterpiece will hopefully get the credit it deserves. If you're tired of overblown Hollywood productions with overpaid stars that (almost) never deliver what they promise, this one is for you. It's the grandmother ("M" being the grandfather) of all modern thrillers and still a hell of a lot better than most of them. Buy it!!!"
A Fritz Lang Masterpiece -- Deserves Greater Attention
Beth Fox | Los Angeles, CA USA | 01/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Don't be put off that it is more than 70 years old; don't be deterred because it is in German. "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" can only be described as awesome -- in the traditional sense of the word. Many early sound motion pictures were talking plays. Fritz Lang, however, truly uses sound in all its aspects. For example, the very first scene creates tension by allowing us to hear only the clanking of a machine. We see people talking, but we cannot hear what they are saying, because they are drowned out by the machine. The viewer knows something is happening, but does not know what. Lang makes effective use of sound throughout. The visuals are amazing, too. We see what a room looks like when illuminated only by a gunshot. We see spectacular fires.
The story may be 70 years old, but it is as recent as today's headlines. Dr. Mabuse, now locked in a mental institution, directs the activities of a terror gang. The gangsters, who are ordinary criminals themselves, cannot understand the purpose of the crimes, which do not appear to be profitable. The point is: the crimes are committed simply to cause terror. Once the population is fully terrorized, the criminal empire can take over. The film was completed weeks after the Nazis took power and not surprisingly, Joseph Goebbels banned the film. Goebbels did allow it to be shown a few years later, after Otto Wernicke was filmed in a new introduction which claimed that the events of the film occured a few years before (i.e., in the Weimar era.) While the film's portrayal of a hypnotic leader can and did describe Adolf Hitler, it also describes hypnotic terrorist leaders today. This story is fresh.
The restoration is outstanding. Although this film is from the 1930s, there is no hissing or popping. The visuals are bright and sharp. Rudolf Klein Rogge, who portrays Dr. Mabuse, does not have much to say, but his whispers will chill you to the bone. This is a masterpiece."
Little known Lang masterpiece
Richard E. Hourula | Berkeley, CA. United States | 08/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" may be the greatest film you've never heard of. In addition to being a cinematic triumph, director' Fritz Lang's film is steeped in actual pre World War II history. The Nazis, only recently having assumed power in Germany, banned this film. Lang claimed that Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels delivered the news along with an offer to make movies for the Third Reich. The claim is probable though undocumented. The ban prompted Lang to leave Germany and bring his magnificent directorial skills to the United States.
One can easily see what so disturbed the Nazis about this second Mabuse film (Lang had earlier made a far less political silent version about the diabolical doctor). It is a brilliant allegory of the Nazi rise and their intent to exercise power through a "criminal empire" of fear and terror. It is an amazing triumph for Lang especially when one considers people were only just beginning the true nature of Nazi ideals and intent.
But politics aside (as if that is possible with such a film) Mabuse is a highly entertaining crime thriller with elements of the horror genre and a love story thrown in.
As always in a Lang film characters are well developed but exist to forward the story, not to dominate the screen. Otto Wernicke reprises his role as Inspector Lohman from Lang's "M." The cinematography is also true to Lang form, (indeed perhaps at its best) starting with a stunning opening scene.
This two-disc edition includes a French version made simulatelously by Lang, a relevant segment of a 1964 interview with the director, excellent commentary by David Kalat and more. The great people at Criterion have outdone even themselves with this package.
Anyone who appreciates "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" will be doing himself or herself a huge favor by purchasing this excellent DVD edition.
gsibbery | 06/01/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the last of the great expressionist claasics from UFA, made right before the Nazis took over Germany and made freedom of expression a thing of the past. Dr. Mabuse, played by the astounding Rudolf-Klein Rogge, embarks on a campaign of crime that is designed to do nothing more than to cause the breakdown of society and to spread chaos -- Mabuse's underlings spout actual Nazi propaganda, so what exactly is being attacked here is quite obvious. The cinematography is stunning and the acting is superb, but the use of voice I find rather decreases the visual impact of the expressionistic genre. After this film was made, Lang, the director, was forced to flee for his life as the Nazis imposed total control over Germany and UFA became a propaganda tool. The subplot of a decent man forced into a life of crime by poverty may also be of interest of thos who might wonder how a man like Hitler could have gained so much power in the first place."
A Suspenseful Cinematic Landmark
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 06/17/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fritz Lang's Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a sequel to his Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922), however, in this film he uses Nazi motto's in the mouth of a mad scientist. Lang pushed the envelop as he directed this cinematic landmark that Joseph Goebels, Nazi Minister of Information, deemed dangerous for public order in Nazi Germany. Despite the Nazi's banning the film they recognized Lang's cinematic genius as they offered him a position as the head of German film. However, Lang recognized the danger and escaped from Germany shortly after the Nazi's banned Testament of Dr. Mabuse.Testament of Dr. Mabuse begins with Berlin's police inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), receiving a phone call from a certain Hofmeister that is suspiciously cut off with strange noise in the background. Lohmann's investigation leads to a mysterious disappearance of Hofmeister and more strange crimes begin to appear. Lohmann is flabbergasted over the new crime wave as new leads brings him to a mental institution where Dr. Mabuse has been committed for his insane crimes. However, Dr. Mabuse has been diagnosed as incapable of daily functioning since he has been attached to a writing pad for ten years where he has been writing incomprehensible gibberish. There seems to be something sinister that is working behind the curtain, but that is for Lohmann to discover.The sound, cinematography, and special effects are jaw dropping considering when the film was shot as these aspects of film making, still to this day, enhance the alarm and horror that the audience experiences. For example, in the opening shot the camera pans across a dusty attic turned into an engineering workshop while the deafening mechanical sound induces frightening mental images illustrates Lang's ingenious directing skills. The visual special effects are also advanced as Lang displays an exploding barrel with convincing sound. This demonstrates Lang's understanding for the importance of sound in film as it is not only used for dialogue, but to elevate the cinematic experience. In the end Testament of Dr. Mabuse offers a remarkable cinematic experience that has earned it a spot in film history by being a political statement as well as an aesthetic example of cinema at its finest."