Dr. Mabuse is a man living in Berlin who craves power. He’s a doctor who looks after higher up royalty and others working for the government. He sees a way to manipulate his way to the top, using any trick he can to get there.
Fritz Lang directed this one, and it has the same problem many early book adaptations have. They are just too danged long. Many directors during this time period would take books and try to adapt them as directly as they could, some, like the original cut of Foolish Wives (1922) were coming in at 8 hours long before the studios would force the directors to cut it to a reasonable length. For Dr. Mabuse, the compromise was to split it into two 2-hour long parts released a month apart, but, having just watched both parts back-to-back, I would say you could easily cut an hour out of each part and make for a single movie, maybe even less than 2-hours.
It has too many moments where literally nothing is happening, one that sticks out is a 10-15 minute scene of one character going into a casino, going into the backroom, going up a set of stairs, goes into another secret room, and finally goes through the last door to where they could have just cut to 15 minutes beforehand. All of this done without any dialogue or action outside of this man walking through 5 rooms. It could, at least, just shown quick cuts of him getting there so the audience can see how convoluted the path is to get there, but it definitely didn’t have to be 15 minutes following this guys every action as the story is caught in a standstill while we wait for this man to get to where he’s going.
Okay, aside from the length of the film, I kept thinking how Dr. Mabuse felt like the Penguin from Batman, and by that I mean the Adam West Batman from the 60s where the plans these super-criminals make are so convoluted and nonsensical you know they would only work the way they do on television. In this case, Dr. Mabuse gets people to do what he wants through hypnosis, because it’s just that easy to hypnotize anyone you want at any time! Okay, it’s 1922 and not much was known then about the human psyche, so I guess I can forgive it for not knowing better. But it still distracted me when I kept thinking “hypnosis doesn’t work like that” every few minutes.
Really, I would have pretended not to notice the factual errors about psychology if the movie had a consistent flow. By that I mean this movie’s plot points often don’t make any sense. Things seem to just happen, and that’s it. Though some of the things that Dr. Mabuse does do have an effect on the plot, like character actions should, many things seem to happen just by chance in the “but the plot has to move forward somehow” kind of excuse. Things shouldn’t happen just because, not in movies anyway, not unless you show in full why that random thing just happened, and you still will probably be blamed for using it as a Deus ex Machina.
Okay, despite all my complaints, there were a few things I liked. The music was really good and always captured the scene perfectly. The graphics were way ahead of their time too, near the end writing words on the screen to show the doctor’s insanity. It perfectly flows with the action and had to be really tough to do without computers and the like. I actually have no idea how they did it at that point in time.
+5: Kinda “meh”
-1: Too frickin’ long
-1: Too many random happenings to make the plot move
+1.5: Amazing music
+1: Graphics ahead of their time