A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)

Lang's Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) hardly needed a sequel, but the director makes it worth our while by adding sound to the concoction. Take, for example, the segue from the tick ... tick ... tick of the timer on a bomb to the chip ... chip ... chip of someone removing the shell from a soft-boiled egg. It's a witty touch that not only eases tension with laughter, but also demonstrates the prevalence of the sinister in everyday life. Hitchcock, it is often noted, learned a great deal from Lang. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is more of a felt presence than a visible one in this version, confined as he is to an insane asylum where he supposedly dies, only to haunt not only the inmate Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) but also, and especially, the head of the asylum, Prof. Baum (Oscar Beregi Sr.), who is compelled to carry out Mabuse's plans for world domination. As in the 1922 film, there is a doughty policeman, Commissioner Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), who is determined to foil Mabuse's nefarious plans. Wernicke, whose character Lang brought over from M ( 1931), is not as hunky as the earlier film's von Wenk (Bernhard Goetze), so Lang and screenwriter Thea von Harbou add to the mix a young leading man, Gustav Diessl, who plays Thomas Kent, an ex-con who escapes from Mabuse's snares to aid Lohmann in trapping Baum in his efforts to fulfill Mabuse's plot. It's extremely effective suspense hokum, not raised quite to the level of art the way the 1922 film was, but still a cut above the genre. As is usually noted, this was Lang's last film in Germany. It was suppressed by the Nazis, ostensibly because it suggested that the state could be overthrown by a group of people working together, but perhaps also because of its suggestion that world domination might not be such a good thing.