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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)


Starring: Peter van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Gert Fröbe, Wolfgang Preiss, Werner Peters and Howard Vernon
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £19.99


Certificate: 12
Release Date: 11 May 2020

It’s appropriate that Review Graveyard cover the Eureka Blu-ray release of Fritz Lang’s last film after reviewing at least seven other Lang films (probably more but I got tired of hunting them in the archive). Lang the protean master would appear as himself in Godard’s Contempt in 1963 alongside Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance, Palance acting as what Lang was, a world class filmmaker. It hurts to see Palance in febrile rant mode, lecture Lang on what filmmaking had then become. Especially considering that he was acting as Godard’s mouthpiece. But then again, in the nouvelle vague pioneer’s defence, maybe this was his way of saying what horseshit new film was becoming, childish, puerile, superficial, cheesily derivative. To some extent what Palance was preaching to Lang was true but no more commendable.

Is Fritz Lang passé? No. His narrative forms continue to be raided and pilfered, his graphic construction is never out of sight, especially when someone extols noir or fantasy.

A fantasy fan can be a Zoomer who has never heard of Fritz Lang but they somehow have met up with Metropolis (1927) and know that Thea von Harbou’s under-skin robot looks ancestrally similar to R2D2.

Or they’re besotted with the gothic look and know its filmic shadows were cast a century ago. They don’t know who the shadow-casters were but they know it happened. Maybe in Germany. Where Hitchcock learned to be Hitchcock.

Or they know there have been filmic serial killers before now because they’ve seen stills in history books of the owl-eyed Peter Lorre looking over his shoulder into a reflection, horrified at the M (1931) chalked onto the back of his coat.

Or they know crime is cold hearted, especially when a psychopathic bully (Lee Marvin) scalds a woman’s face with boiling coffee - and - at the end of the picture she (Gloria Grahame) returns him the same first degree favour - and lectures him through her mummy face bandages about his compassionless life while he wallows on the floor, squealing like a pig.

What was the movie called? they ask.

The Big Heat (1953), they’re told.

Who did it?

Fritz Lang, they’re told.

Oh, him again, they say.

Yes, Fritz Lang. Again and again and again.

In 1959 Lang was ready to retire. He had hopes of doing more projects but he must have known it was faint hope. He had scored big with an exotic epic so massive it had to be shown as two feature length outings. A pistol-packing archaeologist delves into mysterious India seeking treasure, romance, mystical secrets and survive cliffhanging jeopardy by his brawn and his wits. Sound familiar? Paul Hubschmid stars. I know, who? He had ventured to Hollywood in the early 1950s. There he took the name Paul Christian and starred in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953); becoming dissatisfied with the monster movie niche, unlike fellow co-star Kenneth Tobey, Hubschmid returned to Germany and to his original name. He was a star there and in the rest of the world and Lang used him to great effect in The Indian Tomb and Tiger of Bengal (both 1959). Debra Paget did “the snake dance” in The Indian Tomb. It’s on YouTube. Nearly five and a half million people can’t be wrong. (

This was Lang’s high note; he had soured on Hollywood (branded one of the rudest directors in Hollywood history) and Hollywood had soured on him. His India epics played well all over the world but were shunned by American distributors who were not well disposed to Lang or the ungrateful Hubschmid. (So it was unreleased in the US unless you consider a bowdlerized crap-edited version put out by American International.)

But as is explained in more detail in the Eureka extras, producer Artur Brauner prevailed on the master to do one more film. Something near and dear to his own tradition: another Mabuse, a modern Mabuse with the all the terrors of the Cold War. A continuation of the evil in The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1935 – Hitler hadn’t liked that one at all and Lang had fled Germany soon after) and Dr Mabuse the Gambler (1922 - way back in the Weimar days); yes, Fritz, let’s go back to Mabuse, Brauner coaxed, Mabuse in the now of 1960.

Mabuse was supposed to have died long ago but by the purity of his evil he has come out of the shadows of World War II and steadily murdered a string of multinational corporatists, banjaxed international monetary funds so entire markets pancake and exploded a plutonium reactor (off screen, matter-of-factly reported) cooking everybody within a five mile radius.

All trails lead to the Luxor Hotel where a woman, Marion Menil, stands on a ledge crazed with terror inside her head, ready to jump. She’s driven by the thoughts (hypnosis) of master criminal Dr Mabuse who minutes ago engineered the assassination of a television journalist she knew. The reporter had been in city traffic when a henchman in another car fires an iridium steel dart into his head (not hypnosis). The prototype silent air rifle was being developed by the US Army in Fort Benning when it was stolen and the man who lifted it was found in Germany with his throat cut. Mabuse is this kind of archetypal arch villain.

Staring into the horrified eyes of Dawn Addams up on that Luxor Hotel ledge remind us it’s a shame she didn’t get to do more films beyond Terrence Fisher’s The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960) but two generations of television fans loved her work. Peter van Eyck as visiting industrialist Henry B. Travers, sticks his head out of his window and talks Marion into his arms. Ironically (but not really) Marion’s psychiatrist Dr Jordan (Wolfgang Preiss) happens to be in the hotel. He wants to help his patient but Travers is a Good Samaritan and feels obligated to watch over her. Also, he’s fallen in love with her.

Kriminalkommissar Kras (Gert Fröbe) arrives. He’s been meeting with the (supposedly) sightless visionary Peter Cornelius (uhh…) who precogs crimes before they happen. Kras is no mystic but he takes forensic hard facts where he finds them. It is great fun to see Fröbe five years before Goldfinger as an action hero. Kras is nearly blasted to pieces by a desk phone bomb, has to dive to the floor to avoid being melon-plunked by a sniper, gets beaten, beats others and commands a running car-to-car gun battle on the autobahn. His rotund girth seems no hindrance at all. Gert Fröbe: the action poster hero for plump people. Who knew?

And now for the Hotel Luxor. It is riddled with secret rooms, spiderwebbed with hidden video cameras and employees who know what’s going on and those who don’t. The secretive Mabuse watches and listens to everyone. Some of his henchman are hypnotized serfs others can think and talk back. Although talking back to the Doctor can be fatal. Everyone is expendable.

Lang is not doing camp here, any more than he was in Metropolis, Ministry of Fear (1944), The Big Heat or While the City Sleeps (1956). He’s talking about “the system,” the Oberherr or overlord and we who serve. Mabuse uses eavesdropped data, cell loyalists and Hitlerian technology - chemical and electronic - that would be carefully archived by the three super powers who won the war. In the 20th century he presages all eavesdroppers, even Orwell’s, but is most exemplified by Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld in Spectre (2015) or Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - or - the NSA as itself in Snowden (2016).

Deep in his gruff rude heart, Lang is a romantic. It is said Mabuse didn’t realize a victim, in this case Dawn Addams’ Marion, could respond to love under hypnosis. Her love for van Eyck’s Travers begins with how he talks her out of jumping off the ledge of the Luxor. The next time we’re contemplating such an end game we should remember van Eyck’s eloquence or use it in our own repertoire to talk someone else out of ending it all. Lang is telling us that no matter how ingenious the oligarchs of evil, a compassionate individual can still prevail.

Eureka’s 1080p presentation delivers the clean orderly elegance of cinematographer Karl Löb’s frames in studio or outdoors. Lang’s camera direction moves, dances and contemplates with energy and gusto. Gerhard Becker’s punchy big band jazz score seems almost a send-up but its brassy contrast to the nefarious goings-on add a bigness to the frugal production value. It too seems to be foundational for all Bond scores to come. One wonders if the Bond creators studied Lang’s Mabuse. I think they must have.

Eureka knows this will be a small purchase audience so has rewarded the faithful with abundant extras: German soundtrack with optional English dubbed track approved by Lang, optional English subtitles (I recommend this choice); audio commentary by Lang scholar and leading expert David Kalat; a precious interview with Wolfgang Preiss weeks before he died in 2002; the alternate ending (!); original poster artwork which seems to span decades encompassing all of Lang’s Mabuse films; a collector’s booklet with a brand new essay by Philip Kemp; reprints of Lang’s writing; a valuable study by David Cairns; and notes on Lang’s final, unrealized dream projects by Lotte Eisner.

For students of filmmaking, I recommend The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse for everything: framing the performance, blocking, mise en scene, composition, moving camera, pull in, pull out, hide and reveal, travelling shots, when to hold, when to cut, use of close up, practical effects, foley sound and atmosphere and let us not forget, directing dogs, in this case, a top ranked Schutzhund or German Shepherd “protection dog.”

Just as Dr Mabuse seems to go on living, so does Fritz Lang. Well worth your time and deserving home library space.


John Huff

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