Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Death Ray Mirror of Dr Mabuse (1964)

The Death Ray Mirror of Dr Mabuse (also know as The Death Ray of Dr Mabuse, Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse) was the last of the main cycle of Dr Mabuse films. Released in 1964, it’s usually considered to be the weakest film in the cycle.

Perhaps it was the fact that my expectations were very low, but I thought it was rather enjoyable. It’s true that it doesn’t quite have the feel of a real Dr Mabuse film. Producer Artur Brauner was trying to jump on the James Bond bandwagon, and it’s more of a lightweight spy movie, with less of the darkness and paranoia of previous films. It tries to be sexy and fun, and it succeeds reasonably well. Peter van Eyck plays a secret agent (Major Anders) investigating a plot to steal a deadly death ray mirror, a weapon so powerful that could destroy the world. Just the sort of thing that a diabolical criminal mastermind like Mabuse would like to get his hands on.

The death ray is the brainchild of the eccentric genius Professor Larsen, and he keeps it in a laboratory underneath the island of Malta, a laboratory so secure that non-one, not even Professor Larsen himself, has the combination to the door. The explanation of how he can gain access to the laboratory without actually knowing the combination is one of the cleverer things about the movie. He has an enigmatic assistant, a Dr Krishna, and naturally he has a beautiful daughter (all eccentric genius scientists have beautiful daughters for the hero to fall in love with).

Major Anders sets off for Malta, and in order to provide a cover story for himself he takes along the beautiful Judy to pose as his girlfriend. Judy takes her role quite seriously, and spends much of the movie wearing very little clothing and trying to entice Major Anders into bed. The eccentric genius scientist’s beautiful daughter (Gilda) seems equally keen to get better acquainted with our noble hero. The plot becomes fairly convoluted, with an army of killer frogmen and with chess playing a major role. After a mysterious gunman starts taking potshots at the major it is decided that Judy (who is actually enjoying playing at being a super spy) needs to be placed somewhere safe, and what better place to keep her out of harm’s way than a brothel?

It’s all very silly, but it doesn’t take itself seriously and if you accept it for what it is, an insubstantial piece of harmless fun, then it’s quite entertaining. It’s certainly nowhere near as bad as most reviewers would have you believe. Its main weakness is the casting, with most of the wonderful character actors like Gert Fröbe who made the earlier movies so enjoyable missing from this one. Peter van Eyck does a solid job, while Yvonne Furneaux is competent as Gilda and Rika Dialina is amusing as the enthusiastic and somewhat amorous Judy.
This movie is one of the three included in the Image Entertainment/Retromedia Dr Mabuse Collection, along with The Return of Dr Mabuse and The Invisible Dr Mabuse. Considering its cheapness the set is extremely good value and it’s a lot of fun.

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