The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
(1933) is a German noir film directed by Fritz Lang
. A decade after the success of Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler
, Lang decided to revisit the character in the sound era, with a plot appropriately based on the eeriness of recorded sound.
In the film, it is ten years or so since the criminal empire of Diabolical Mastermind
Dr. Mabuse was crushed by the authorities, and the evil doctor, driven insane by his fall, confined to a mental hospital. Suddenly, the catatonic Mabuse has reawakened and begun to obsessively scribble notes on hypothetical crimes. Which would only be of academic interest, if it weren't for the new criminal gang that seems to be putting those plans into practice.
This was the last film Lang made before leaving Germany. Those Wacky Nazis
, who had come to power just two months before the film was scheduled for release in Germany, promptly banned it. Lang, whose mother was a practicing Roman Catholic but Jewish by birth, left Germany soon after and made his way to Hollywood. Lang's wife Thea von Harbou, who had been his screenwriter and creative partner for almost all of Lang's career, joined the Nazi Party, divorced Lang, stayed behind in Germany, and worked in the Nazi movie industry until the end of the war. A quarter-century after he left, Lang came back to Germany and made another sequel, The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
. The movie was remade
in 1962 as The Terror of Dr. Mabuse
had a complicated release history. The Nazis initially banned Testament
, but ultimately released a heavily-edited version in the late '30s. The biggest change was added narration by Inspector Lohmann stressing the Weimar
setting and claiming Mabuse was Jewish. The movie didn't reach America until 1943, in the midst of World War II
, when it was again reedited, this time to emphasize the Nazi parallels
. In 1952, a heavily cut (from 124 to 82 minutes), English-dubbed version entitled The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse
appeared, which remained the standard version for several decades. Lang's original German cut didn't resurface until 1973, when it was re-released to general acclaim.
(It should be noted that this film has a major case of It Was His Sled
. To avoid the trope examples below being a block of spoiler code, the famous twist in question has not been whited out. If you really want to see the film unspoiled, don't read any further.)
This film provides examples of the following tropes:
- Action Prologue
- Answer Cut: Several times.
- Lohmann says Hofmeister "must have gone out of his mind with terror", and there is a quick cut to a psychiatrist at a lecture describing exactly that condition.
- Later in the movie the cops are discussng a criminal and looking at his picture—cut to the criminal wearing the same clothes and in the same position.
- As You Know: When Inspector Lohmann's assistant tells him that someone named Hofmeister has called, Lohmann makes sure to say "Our former colleague who got into trouble with foreign currency?".
- Bedlam House: Unexpectedly averted. The place isn't exactly cosy, but even though the head psychiatrist is batshit crazy, the patients don't seem to be being ill-treated and most of the staff seem decent.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Kent and Lilli locked in a room, being given three hours to anticipate their deaths.
- Canon Welding: This film pits Dr. Mabuse against Komissar Lohmann from M.
- The Chessmaster: Mabuse
- Cigar Chomper: Lohmann
- Dead Hand Shot: Of a Mook after he shoots himself rather than be taken alive.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Baum is publicly vocal about his admiration for Mabuse even before he starts going seriously round the bend.
- Diabolical Mastermind: Guess who?
- Driven to Madness: Hofmeister. Also Baum.
- Driven to Suicide: A number are reported to have happened off-screen.
- Drowning Pit: Kent risks deliberately turning the room he and Lilli are imprisoned in into this, in the hope that the water will absorb the force of the explosion.
- Dunking The Bomb: Mabuse, in a shining example of Bond Villain Stupidity, locks the good guy and his girlfriend in a room with a bomb set to go off in three hours. The good guy opens up the pipes and deliberately floods the room in an effort to muffle the explosion. They almost drown, but in the end it works.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Kent.
- Exposition Victim: Dr. Kramm.
- Fat and Skinny: Hardy and Bredow
- For the Evulz: Mabuse's motivations in this film are purely to create chaos and a Hobbesian-nightmare "Empire of Crime". Lampshaded in scenes where some of his minions discuss their bemusement at why they're being paid to commit crimes that don't actually seem to make any money.
- Grand Theft Me: One possible interpretation of the film is that Mabuse succeeds in doing this on Baum with his psychic powers.
- His Name Is...: Hofmeister is attacked just as he's about to tell Lohmann who the bad guy is. Unusually, instead of beng killed, he's driven mad.
- Hypnotic Eyes: Mabuse still has them.
- Lecture As Exposition: Baum's lecture on Mabuse, which gives a condensed run-down of the plot of the first film, and sets up his undue admiration of his patient.
- Legacy Character: Baum-Mabuse.
- Love Redeems: Kent.
- Manipulative Bastard: Mabuse, again.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Whether Baum was simply mad, or whether Mabuse actually did manage to do a Grand Theft Me on him by some mystical means.
- Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: The central mystery is how Mabuse is achieving this.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: All of Mabuse's leading minions get killed or arrested because one of them stupidly gave his moll a stolen piece of jewellery to wear in public.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Mabuse and Baum.
- My Brain Is Big: Baum's visions of the dead Mabuse show him like this with a huge exposed brain. (According to Word of God, this was intended to be Baum seeing Mabuse as he last saw him, while he was dissecting Mabuse's brain on the autopsy table.)
- Napoleon Delusion: Baum fully believes by the end that he is Dr. Mabuse.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Ladies and gentlemen, the Ur Example.
- No One Sees the Boss: The gang's "boss" is seen only as a silhouette behind a curtain, which turns out to be a cardboard cut out with a microphone and loudspeaker.
- Nothing Is Scarier: We never find out exactly what Hardy and Bredow did to Hofmeister to drive him mad.
- Posthumous Character: Mabuse, for the second half of the film.
- Psycho Psychologist: Mabuse's past as a psychanalyst is referred to, and his psychiatrist Baum initially starts committing crimes in admiration for him and finally becomes deludedly convinced that he is Mabuse.
- Real Time: Not within the film, but dialogue establishes that both this and the first film are set at the time of their release, with a ten-year-ish gap in between in canon.
- Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: For Kent and Lilli, with a time-bomb included.
- Spiritual Successor: Christopher Nolan has said that this film partially inspired his characterization of The Joker in The Dark Knight. Mabuse's speeches about sewing chaos certainly could come from The Joker's mouth, and vice versa.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Komissar Lohmann.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Hardy and Bredow are an early example, although they aren't as chatty as later examples would become.
- Took a Level in Badass: Inspector Lohmann, who goes from a hard-working but ineffectual investigator in M to a tough and efficient policeman.
- Villain-Based Franchise: The first of the sequels in what would become an irregular but long-running example.
- Villainous Breakdown: Baum is essentially having one throughout the film.
- Villain Protagonist
- The Voice: The "chief". Almost a pre-internet example of Voice with an Internet Connection.