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

The mad doctor is in an asylum scribbling down instructions for the perfect crime while somebody seems to make those plans come alive.

The film has a certain entertainment value and some funny ideas in it, although it had the feeling of a routine work, although being on a very high standard. It combines the early genre of psychothriller, crime and maybe a bit of the imagery of expressive and noir-ish cinema.

The characters are all played way over the top and have stage-like mannerisms in most of the scenes. This took me a while to get used to, but it doesn't keep the film from being highly enjoyable. Also, there is a whodunnit quality to the first half of the film which - for the modern viewer at least - is way too easy to guess around. Although the motivation of the evil doctor becomes only clear at the end: knowing that his life is coming to an end, he decides to transfer his sinister plans to paper and his evil soul onto an innocent (?) bystander.

The first scene of the film is a shining example of suspense: The camera slowly tracks through a room full of strange equipment, accompanied by the loud pumping of heavy machinery when it suddenly pans to a man hiding in there. When two strangers walk in the man quickly hides behind a big chest. Although the men see his shoes peeking out from behind, they silently decide to pretend not to have noticed anything. After they leave the room, we can see both sides of the door, the two men and the hidden man trying to decide what to do. Without a single spoken word the suspense kept me on the edge of the chair.

There are many more ideas like that in the film, some of them work better, some a bit worse. Had the story been a bit stronger in terms of motivation, this film would have been a masterpiece.


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