During the 1960s Germany, criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse is using hypnotized victims and the surveillance equipment of a Nazi-era bugged hotel to steal nuclear technology from a visiting American industrialist.
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A German architect runs away with the maharajah of Eschnapur's fiancee but is caught and thrown in the dungeon, while his relatives arrive from Europe looking for him and the maharajah's brother is scheming to usurp the throne.
When humanity, subjugated by the terror of crime, has been driven insane by fear and horror and when chaos has become supreme law, then the time will have come for the empire of crime.
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Fritz Lang's Das TESTAMENT des Dr.MABUSE is a mesmerising, master-crafted entertainment which no serious movie freak will have missed. The largely forgotten, parallel French version, filmed simultaneously with a French speaking cast, is like most of these foreign versions, a poor relation. I'm glad I saw the German one first - twice in a week as it happens.
Shorter than the German film, it truncates the lovers subplot and plays it with colourless juveniles, omits the giant eye make up shots of Klein Rogge, which re-call Dr. Baum's art collection and, worse, attempts to up the pace by chopping off the fade out scene transitions - giving correctly, the impression that there is something missing.
The German cast is uniformly superior, with the possible exception of the jolly, frankfurter-cooking henchman, who does manage to make an impression. Jim Gerald was a comedian - effectively so in CHAPEAU de PAILEE d'ITALIE and FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS - and he lacks the monolith menace that Wernike provides. Thommy Bordelle is normally an unimposing performer and, giving it his best shot, he's still no fair swap for the the great Oscar Beregei, in the one circulating film where we get to hear Beregei's voice. The French Dr. Kramm (who is he?), in particular, is out classed by Theodore Loos (the secretary from METROPOLIS among other stand-out performances).
Well it's still Lang's Mabuse film and remains intermittently effective - Hoffmeister's vision of Lohman's entry into his see through cell is still a grabber - and it is another piece of the jig saw and another, if minor, Lang movie. So nice to get to see it after all these years.
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