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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933)


Fritz Lang’s final film before fleeing Nazi Germany has been restored to superb effect, its tortured release history no longer an impediment to anyone with a DVD player from experiencing this amazing work. One tour de force sequence follows another in a film that’s famous for tweaking Nazi sensibilities (Goering banned it before the premiere), but which is also a wildly entertaining criminal-mastermind/detective procedural with metaphysical/supernatural trimmings. Lang’s wife, Nazi sympathizer Thea von Harbou, has her usual surrogate figure in here, but Lang (perhaps because they had already separated) keeps this role to a bare minimum to concentrate on the detectives & the criminal gang of jewelry thieves, assassins & counterfeiters all under the thumb of ‘Mabuse ectoplasm.’ The design and camera work are not only cinematically effective, but stunning as pure composition, celluloid as physical object, and because the technical work is all managed within the capabilities of the time it means that unlike other Lang masterpieces there’s little that feels dated in the film other than the lack of background score. A great film, and tremendous fun, to boot.

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