After the phenomenal ‘Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler’ films (or, in English, ‘Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler’) from 1922, Lang didn’t make another Dr. Mabuse film until 11 years later with ‘Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse’ (‘The Testament of Dr. Mabuse’). It took another 27 years for Lang to make another Dr. Mabuse film with ‘Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ (‘The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse’). And while ‘Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler’ and ‘Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse’ have cemented themselves as important, influential, and amazing pieces of cinematic fiction, ‘Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ has long been overlooked. Not only was it Lang’s final film in the Dr. Mabuse universe, it was his final film ever as director.
‘Die 1000 Augen…’ is mostly removed from its predecessors, mostly due to the fact that Rudolf Klein-Rogge doesn’t make an appearance as Dr. Mabuse after appearing in the first two films. But that isn’t the only reason why ‘Die 1000 Augen…’ feels so removed from its predecessors. About 27 years have passed in Lang’s life since ‘Das Testament…’ which means all sorts of social & political change, technological progress, and cinematic evolution has occurred. If ‘Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler’ portrayed a post-WWI Germany and ‘Das Testament…’ portrayed a pre-WWII Germany (Dr. Mabuse and Hitler have strong parallels between them), then ‘Die 1000 Augen…’ is a portrayal of the increasing amount of control held by the political powers (think Big Brother). It is a reflection of the increasing number of means that those in power have at their disposal to control those who are not in positions of power as well as the increase in efficiency that these means provide.
The film begins with a reporter getting killed in his car on his way to work in a manner that would be familiar to those who have seen the first two films (is Dr. Mabuse back?). Peter Cornelius, a blind psychic, phones Inspector Kras to tell him he had a vision of the crime. Henry Travers, an occupant of the Luxor Hotel, saves Marian Menil from suicide. And Hieronymus B. Mistelzweig (the ‘B’ stands for belly) is an insurance salesman that likes doing his business at the Luxor Hotel. The Luxor Hotel, the primary location that the film is set in, is almost entirely surveilled as microphones and cameras are hidden in almost every room. The Luxor Hotel is a microcosm of the world at large, a world increasingly listened to, watched, and controlled (if these were the concerns Lang had in 1960, just imagine what he would think of the world we live in today). These characters interact with one another and cross paths at the Luxor Hotel over the course of the film.
If this film demonstrates anything about Lang’s cinematic talents, it is that he had full control over his craft at this point in his career. Sure, ‘Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler’ and ‘Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse’ were certainly impressive for their time, but ‘Die 100 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ feels effortless. The camera-work is far more dynamic and immersive than previous installments, as it moves subtlety through the environment, framing places and people as they are. That is to say that it captures these places and people as they exist in the moment, as if the camera was really there for that interaction, that event, that piece of dialogue. It feels natural, purposeful, and exact. Yet it never distracts. It keeps clear, giving everyone and everything the exact amount of space that is needed but always getting close in moments of tension.
Furthermore, beyond the purely visual aspects of the film, the film’s audio (including voices, environmental sounds, score, etc.), acting, pacing, and writing are all top-notch. Every actor carries their weight as every scene gets played out to near perfection. The writing is complex but avoids over-complication. Lang throws several red herrings at us but we never feel taken advantage of, thought stupid, or confused by any of it. Things unfold and play out as naturally as you would hope for. It is one of those films where the surprises aren’t all that surprising yet they were also not entirely predictable. The result, at least with this film, is a feeling of satisfaction. Nothing came out of the blue, nothing happened in a way that feels unbelievable, nothing breaks our immersion, nothing makes us stop caring about what is going to happen. We feel invested to the end because of the brilliant ways in which the film reveals its details bit by bit, treating its audience like intelligent people.
So to those who have not yet seen Lang’s Dr. Mabuse films… what are you waiting for? ‘Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler’ and ‘Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse’ are certified classics. Important, influential, amazing pieces of cinematic fiction. As I noted at the beginning of this review, ‘Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ has long been overlooked. Agreeably, it is not quite as important or influential as its predecessors. But, in my opinion (obviously), it is just as good, if not better. Whether you want to discuss its technical excellence or its great creative value, ‘Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ deserves universal acclaim. It deserves to be watched, adored, and celebrated as much as both of its predecessors because cinema doesn’t get much better than this.
‘Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse’ is utterly brilliant.