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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (Blu-ray)
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // September 13, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Fritz Lang's 1922 silent epic Dr. Mabuse The Gambler was originally released as two separate films, The Great Gambler and Inferno, which is how the project is presented on this new two disc Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber (one film on each disc). Although Lang would revisit the character in 1933 with The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and then again in 1960 with The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, this earliest take on bringing the character cinematic life remains a high point in the director's storied filmography. It holds up remarkably well. Clearly influenced by the serials coming out of France at the time (think Les Vampyres or Fantomas), this epic saga of a master criminal is loaded with thrills, chills and quirky characters and put together with a great eye for composition and mood.

Set in the period in which it was made, the film introduces us to the titular Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). He is, for all intents and purposes, a gangster. He lusts after money and power and would seem to have no qualms about doing whatever it is that needs to be done to boost his own bank account. If that means he's to pull the strings and cause a stock market collapse, so be it. Scores of people will lose everything, but if it allows him to buy at pennies on the dollar, then that's all that he really cares about. He also runs gambling dens, drug smuggling operations and counterfeiting rings. Truly, he is a master criminal, the kind that will stick his finger into any pie worth tasting, morality and legality be damned.

Of course, Mabuse's criminal ways cannot and do not go unnoticed by the authorities in Berlin. Prosecutor Norbert von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke) would love nothing more than to see him rot in a cell. He and the local police set out to do away with the gambling dens and hopefully piece together the puzzle that will lead them to the top. Helping von Wenk is a wealthy man named Edgar Hull (Paul Richter), a man who was once wronged by the doctor when he was unknowingly put under hypnosis and cheated at cards. It gets off to a good start until Mabuse realizes that they're determined to bring him in. At this point he uses all of his powers of disguise, his control over the small army of peons - Spoerri (Robert Forster-Loagginaga), Georg (Hans Adalbert Schlettow), Pesch (Georg Jon), Hawasch (Károly Huszár), Fine (Grete Berger) and a beautiful dancer named Cara Carozza (Aud Egede-Nissen) - who do his bidding. And then of course there are his powers of hypnosis, his natural cunning, all of which he will use to outwit von Wenk and Hull seemingly at every turn. But when Mabuse's kidnapping of the beautiful Countess Told (Gertrude Welcker) goes awry, it seems he may not hold the upper hand after all…

Based on the character that originally appeared in the series of novels penned by Norbert Jacques, this nearly five hour long film is as impressive as it is daunting. As you'd imagine, it's best digested as intended, in two parts, rather than in one marathon session. Either way, viewers are rewarded with an immensely entertaining production from Lang and company. The plot moves at a very quick pace. Any time it seems like things are slowing down a bit there's a backstabbing or a murder or a bombing or some sort of daring criminal act committed on the part of the doctor. The cast of characters is intriguing, particularly the different operatives that Mabuse employs (he's kind of like an evil version of The Shadow in that regard) and the different disguises that the various characters use (which would seem to be culled from the aforementioned Fantomas films).

The visuals are fantastic. Lang's use of shadow and light, not to mention all manner of quirky and unorthodox camera angels, results in an impressionistic work of pulp fiction wherein the imagery up on screen would seem to indicate just what the characters are experiencing. Given that the film is silent, obviously he couldn't just have the characters talk to each other (intertitles are used but they're far from constant) so this tactic goes a long way towards making the film as involving as it is. It also results in a lot of startlingly bizarre images, the most obvious example happening towards the end of the film where Mabuse is confronted by those poor souls he's been responsible for doing away with all this time.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge is fantastic in the title role. His deep-set eyes look almost dead inside thanks to the frequent use of a lighting tactic that paints circles below them and it gives him an eerie presence. The rest of the cast are quite interesting to watch as well, but Klein-Rogge is unforgettable in the lead.

Video:
The Blu-ray:

Video:

Dr. Mabuse The Gambler arrives on a two disc Blu-ray set from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer framed at 1.33.1 taken from a new 2k restoration and it looks very good, particularly when you consider the age of the picture. Detail is surprisingly strong in spots, allowing viewers to really appreciate the intricacies of some of the sets and the costumes. There was, understandably, some print damage that could not be eliminated. As such, you'll notice some scratches here and there as well as some specks but by and large this is in pretty nice shape. Contrast for the black and white image is also quite good. There are some scenes that do bloom a bit, but this clearly stems back to the original photography and isn't a fault of the transfer or the encoding. The image is free of any obvious compression artifacts, noise reduction or edge enhancement.

Sound:

The silent film is accompanied by a musical score that is presented in LPCM 2.0 format. Sound quality is quite good, with plenty of depth and resonance to the compositions. The score is nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. The intertitles in the film are presented in German with English subtitles and are clean, clear and easy to read.

Extras:

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection save for an excellent three part featurette entitled The Story Behind Dr. Mabuse. This fifty-two minute documentary does a pretty thorough job of covering the music in the film, the origins of the character of Dr. Mabuse, how this filmed take on the character came to be, how the socio-political climate of its German homeland may have played a role in how it turned out, and a fair bit more. There's some interesting archival material used in here in which Fritz Lang himself talks about making this particular film, it's quite interesting.

Final Thoughts:

Dr. Mabuse The Gambler represents Fritz Lang at the top of his game, it's an exciting and suspenseful serial-like story that is as fascinating as it is entertaining. Kino's Blu-ray doesn't add anything new in terms of supplements but it does carry over the interesting documentary from their older DVD release and present the film in beautiful shape. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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