When I planned to show my filmmaking class a variety of historical movements in cinema history last spring, I brainstormed a number of genres for one that could span the scope of time and culture. I couldn't quite cover all the bases I wanted to with spies, but crime as a theme eventually rose to the top of the list. Students looked at great classics from all over the world from the early days of feature-length films to the present. Snatch was a big fave, but one name kept coming up when they chose to present their findings to the group- MABUSE! Lang's Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Criterion edition) made a huge impression. By the end of the class they would share knowing glances, shiver, and shout, "the Mabuse!" It's fantastic to see teenagers get amped over a foreign film from 1933! Our group viewing inspired me to go back and re explore the other films in the series.
Currently there is a budget DVD box set in the US that offers a number of the low-budget Mabuse films from the 60s- spawned I gather from the success of Lang's re-launch of the character in the excellent 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. The series kind of goes down in quality from there, but I still recommend them as entertaining Spy Vibe viewing. I enjoy them mainly for their use of fun genre conventions, like secret rooms, trap doors, sneaky escapes, mystery villains, daring assassinations, etc. And as reported earlier this week, PAL viewers can now see the best of the series- the titles directed by Lang himself- in a restored Mabuse box set due for release later this month. Another inspiration for an all-region player! I wonder how much that new McIntosh Blu-ray/DVD/SACD/DVD-Audio hybrid will cost?
To find out more about the Mabuse legacy, I did track down this book on Amazon, The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse by David Kalat. I have his excellent Critical History of Godzilla (who doesn't?). I haven't checked the Mabuse book out yet, so I hope some fellow Spy Vibers will leave reviews in the comments section. Check out Movie Goods for Mabuse posters. About the book:
The Mabuse phenomenon is recognized as an icon of horror in Germany as Frankenstein and Dracula are in the United States. This work is a study of the 12 motion pictures and five books (and some secondary films) that make up the eight decades of adventures of master criminal Mabuse, created by author Norbert Jacques in the best-selling 1922 German novel and brought to the screen by master filmmaker Fritz Lang in the same year. Both on screen and off, the story of Dr. Mabuse is a story of love triangles and revenge, of murder, suicides, and suspicious deaths, of betrayals and paranoia, of fascism and tyranny, deceptions and conspiracies, mistaken identities, and transformation. This work, featuring much information never before published in English, provides an understanding of a modern mythology whose influence has pervaded popular culture even while the name Mabuse remains relatively unknown in the United States.