Saturday Movie Review – "Testament of Dr. Mabuse"

This classic is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Cast and Crew

Otto Wernicke as Inspector Lohmann
Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr. Mabuse
Oscar Beregi Sr. as Prof. Dr. Baum
Gustav Diessl as Thomas Kent
Rudolf Schundler as Hardy

Written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou.
Directed by Fritz Lang.

Complete information is available from this IMDB page.

Buy from:

Past movie reviews can be found here.


The criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse, who ran a criminal ring through hypnosis in (as yet unreviewed) Dr. Mabuse – The Gambler, has returned to a life of crime, running a new crime spree from the confines of his room in an insane asylum. It’s a neat trick, considering he’s done nothing but scrawl nearly illegible scribbles and comments on paper the psychiatrists provide him.

High Point

The potential implications of the final shot.

Low Point

This puzzle wasn’t as difficult as the police would make it seem.

The Review

This is an original way to bring back a villain. I still haven’t seen the original, though I’ve ordered it based on the quality of this film, so I can’t say for certain if this pushes the franchise in new directions. Given the built-in recap of the original, I strongly suspect it did. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were minimal, but well done, with explosions in the middle of the street, notes being passed to actual actors by actors who aren’t really there, and a variety of other effects I would have thought impossible in 1932 that play out quite well. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story is well written and paced, even if the police involved aren’t the brightest bulbs in the marquee. (Lang wasn’t impressed by the police in Germany in the early 1930s. The police are always idiots in his movies, including one highly decorated Inspector Lohmann that appears both here and in the superior M, my favourite movie of all time.) This ties together a number of characters in a natural way, and plays their stories out just as naturally. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting isn’t quite as overdone as most was in this era. Film acting was just starting to set itself apart from stage acting at this time. The acting is overdone, but not as much as it was in most films from this year. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response was great. Although the viewer knows the solution to the puzzle early on, it’s still a fun ride watching the characters get there. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production has Lang’s handiwork stamped all over it. The acting and sound quality give away the age of this film. (The aforementioned M was the first German sound film, predating this by only a year.) The camera work and lighting does not. In fact, I could name a few modern directors who still don’t have the mastery of camera work that Lang showed 75 years ago! A more careful examination of the sound reveals that, though pops and crackles are present, the choices involved in deciding which sounds to use are excellent. Sound technology was still new, and yet Lang used a rythmic beat from machinery blended with the cracking of a hard boiled egg to seamlessly transition two scenes. The opening scene uses local train noise to muffle conversation, while a later scene uses other background noise to muffle a gunshot. Other directors were still adjusting to the existance of sound technology while Lang was past this stage and well into the innovation and experimentation stage. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, though dated in some ways, much of this movie holds up today. If you’re looking for a good crime flick with a supernatural bent, look no further. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse receives 35 out of 42.

2 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – "Testament of Dr. Mabuse"”

  1. Allusive
    I haven’t seen this film, but Charles Stross references the character of Mabuse (and this film, specifically) in his 2007 novel The Jennifer Morgue, which will receive a review here next week.

    • Re: Allusive

      I haven’t seen this film, but Charles Stross references the character of Mabuse (and this film, specifically) in his 2007 novel The Jennifer Morgue, which will receive a review here next week.

      I would have mentioned that. ;-)

      After reading Stross’s book, I looked up Mabuse on Wikipedia, learned about the film, took a chance searching on our the Tivo and got lucky (courtesy of Turner Movie Classics or American Movie Classics, not sure which).

      Very cool film, as you’d expect from Fritz Lang.

      Another similar character is Fantomas, (evil) star of many books and films. Some of the Fantomas stories are beginning to be translated or reprinted in English (there’s even a graphic novel version of one!), so if you’re into supervillains from the early part of the twentieth century, you’re in for a treat.

Comments are closed.