Thursday, 24 January 2008

The Return of Dr Mabuse (1961)

With his 1922 movie Dr Mabuse, der Spieler Fritz Lang created one of the enduring villains of 20th century cinema. The shadowy figure of Dr Mabuse was to appear in several more of Lang’s films, including his final film The 1000 Eyes Of Dr Mabuse, and in moves by countless other directors. Like a diabolical spider, Dr Mabuse sits in the middle of a gigantic web of corruption and criminal conspiracies. Dr Mabuse enjoyed a renaissance in early 1960s German films. The Return of Dr Mabuse (Im Stahlnetz des Dr Mabuse) opens with a series of murders, apparently related to large-scale international organised crime activities. At first Commissioner Lohmann (Gert Fröbe) has no reason to suspect Dr Mabuse’s involvement – Mabuse is, after all, dead. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this is no ordinary criminal plot. He is up against an army of men who have been turned into virtual robots, with no will of their own, mindless and remorselessly carrying out their orders. The plot also seems to go beyond mere crime. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Dr Mabuse. But Dr Mabuse is dead. Isn’t he? Then Lohmann discovers the charred remains of a book at one of the murder scenes, where a notorious female mobster from Chicago has been assassinated by means of a flame-thrower concealed in a truck. The book, by a mysterious clergyman, mentions Mabuse by name. Lohmann is more and more convinced that the evil doctor is somehow involved. He is also starting to wonder if the FBI agent who is assisting him in the investigation is really who he says he is. And is there a connection with the city prison’s strange inability to account for some of its more notorious inmates?

The movie has more than enough energy and style to overcome the limitations of its low budget. Gert Fröbe is delightful as Commissioner Lohmann, Lex Barker is solid as FBI man Joe Como, and Daliah Lavi adds some glamour as a nosy reporter. There’s also a mad scientist, so really this film has everything you could want. It’s all terrific fun. It’s a bit similar in feel to the Edgar Wallace krimis that were such a staple of the German film industry in the 60s. I’m getting totally hooked on the German movies of this period.

No comments: