The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Sometimes a book or a movie gets more praise than it deserves because it was banned somewhere.  And what could be better for a movie than to have been banned by Joseph Goebbels himself, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany!  Other than that, there is no explanation for why anyone thinks this movie is any good.

If Dr. Mabuse:  The Gambler (1922) was over the top, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is absurd.  The title character went insane in the first movie and was confined to an insane asylum.  Then, Hofmeister, a criminal who once was a police detective, but was cashiered for bribery, goes mad out of fear of Dr. Mabuse.  By the end of the movie, Dr. Baum, who runs the asylum, goes mad as well and has to be confined.  But it does not stop there.  The plot is so outrageous as to make one think the movie itself was produced by a madman.

For starters, while Dr. Mabuse is in the insane asylum, he still manages to run a criminal organization, planning crimes down to the last detail.  His motives are as mad as he is.  Whereas in the first movie, he simply wanted power and the pleasure of manipulating the lives of others, in this movie he wants to drive the whole world mad by getting people hooked on drugs, which he supplies for free, and by causing so much terror and destruction that civilization will collapse, leaving nothing behind but crime as a way of life.

Mabuse communicates with his henchmen by willing his thoughts onto a record, which plays when he so wills it, while a cardboard image of himself sits behind a curtain, casting a shadow.  Do you dare ask how this curtain, cardboard image, and record player came to be set up in this room where criminals go to get their orders when commanded to do so by a piece paper with a typewritten message on it?  Why, Mabuse just wills it all into place!

Things get a little easier for Mabuse when he dies and wills his spirit into Dr. Baum, so now he has another body to occupy that can leave the asylum.  But he loves the record gimmick so much that when Dr. Baum wants his servant to think he is in his quarters, the record player is turned on whenever someone wiggles the door handle, causing it to play the message, “I don’t wish to be disturbed.”

Kent, a man who killed his girlfriend and her lover and went to prison for it, is forced by economic circumstances into Mabuse’s criminal organization.  Together with Lilli, the woman he loves, he decides to go straight.  But before he can make it to the police station, he and Lilli are captured and brought to the room with the curtain, the cardboard image, and the record player.  After the door is locked behind them, the record tells them they will never leave the room alive.  Eventually, Kent and Lilli pull back the curtain and discover the setup.  Then they hear ticking, the sound of a time bomb.  What better way to have a couple of people killed than to blow up your own headquarters!  But when you can will yourself into another body, will your thoughts onto a record, will your thoughts through a typewriter onto a piece of paper, and will an entire setup consisting of record player, curtain, and cardboard image, and finally will a time bomb into existence as well, then I suppose it is child’s play to will the whole setup into existence somewhere else after you destroy it with that time bomb just to kill two people.

But all is not lost.  We can just say to ourselves that this movie was an attempt by Fritz Lang to warn us of the danger of Adolf Hitler and that will make the movie profound somehow.

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