Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. A

Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse feels very liberated, a quality in many of his films, but especially here. Here are some of the things he's got going on: a crazy cop who might have the key to a major case. A crazy doctor in a mental hospital who might be planning crimes that are taking place in the city. A counterfeiter who battles with his conscience and the woman he loves, but might have to let go. Then there's a sane cop who's trying to make sense of it all. Lang also has fun with a thrilling car chase and a flooded room right out of a Hollywood blockbuster. There's so much going on here, so many characters and so many little plot threads that in the don't actually add up to anything spectacular. But the movie as a whole is so entertaining, so lively and busy. There's some real gutsiness to Lang's overall approach, particularly the sensations he creates visually. One wouldn't expect a movie like this to made 1933 unless Lang, who had already made Metropolis and M (two films that seemed well ahead of its time) was at the helm. If there's a general point to Testament of Dr. Mabuse amidst its narrative chaos, it's the idea of reign of crime, doing evil for its own sake. So it's no big surprise that Hitler banned the film from Germany upon its release. Some characters are so obviously like nazis, while the reign of crime fits a general outlook towards Hitler's regime. Shortly after the film came out, Lang headed for the United States, where he mainly set his priorities on the film noir genre, creating, among others, the masterpiece Scarlet Street (which recently got a blu ray release, a great time to buy it if you've never seen it). The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is Lang at his finest. It's convoluted in the best sense, not a great example of narrative or form, but pure creation and invention with no limits.

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