Film / Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler

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The many faces of Doctor Mabuse

"There is no such thing as love, only passion! No luck, only the will to gain power!"
Dr. Mabuse

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler/Dr. Mabuse, King of Crime is a two-part German silent film from 1922 directed by Fritz Lang. It was adapted by the novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques, which was written to deliberately mimic and cash in on the popularity of Fu Manchu and Fantômas while delivering political commentary about Weimar Germany. It follows psychoanalyst and criminal mastermind Doctor Mabuse, who has gained wealth and control of Berlin through a vast and elaborate crime network that he uses for everything from counterfeiting and sabotage to manipulating the stock market through complex means. Eventually, State Prosecutor Norbert von Wenk begins to unravel the complex defenses surrounding Mabuse's identity and becomes determined to take him down.

The film was a major hit in Germany that helped elevate Fritz Lang's directorial career (enabling him to produce big-budget projects like Die Nibelungen and Metropolis) and turned lead actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge into a popular stock villain star. It is remembered today for its innovative narrative techniques, Expressionist imagery, complex commentary on the Weimar Republic, and for codifying many of the tropes associated with organized crime films.

Lang followed with the belated but highly acclaimed sequel The Testament of Doctor Mabuse in 1933, and the less well-regarded The Thousand Eyes of Doctor Mabuse in 1960. A series of inferior films was spun off from there in the 1960's and 70's, and a new Mabuse film is listed as "in development" on the IMDb.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: As the police storm his building, Mabuse escapes via the standard roomy, well-lit sewer tunnel.
  • Action Prologue: The film kicks off with one of Mabuse's minions stealing a secret treaty from a courier, which Mabuse uses to manipulate the stock market to enrich himself.
  • Battle Butler: Some of Mabuse's henchmen.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Mabuse never tries to kill von Wenk by simple, efficient methods. This leads to his downfall.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A mook explains that the trap door to the counterfeiting room can be opened easily from outside but can't be opened from the inside without a key. Guess where Mabuse winds up trapped at the end of the movie after his flight from police.
  • The Chessmaster: Mabuse
  • Chewing the Scenery: Mabuse does this when Carozza tries to warn him to watch out for Wenk.
  • Counterfeit Cash: Just one of Mabuse's many criminal businesses.
  • Crapsack World: Well, this is a Truth in Television, Weimar Germany wasn't a nice place.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: An early example and one of the Trope Codifiers
  • Driven to Madness: Mabuse, at the end.
  • Driven to Suicide: Many times within the film
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mabuse, who has a wide-ranging criminal empire and orders murders without a second thought, says "I'm no pickpocket" when presented with the contents of Wenk's wallet and pockets. He orders them returned to Wenk.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: A car plunges into a quarry and "explodes" with a fairly unconvincing smoke bomb effect.
  • Fanservice Extra: There's a naked lady as part of the decoration at the casino where Carozza lures Hull to be killed.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • When one mook is arrested, Mabuse arranges a blockade on the streets, and then has a sniper take out the mook when the paddy wagon stops.
    • Cara Carozza refuses to talk to the police as she is Mabuse's Love Martyr, but better safe than sorry, so he has poison smuggled into the prison with instructions to take it. Because she's an idiot, she does.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Carozza kills herself because of Mabuse's order. This trope is inverted, because not hero, but villain kills herself for evil goals.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After Mabuse's hideout is stormed by the cops and army, he escapes through a tunnel to his counterfeiting workshop, but forgets that he deliberately designed it so the doors could only be opened from outside to stop his staff stealing.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: This is a part of Dr. Mabuse's whole schtick, perhaps played most memorably in the card playing scenes ("YOU TAKE").
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: When Mabuse kidnaps Countess Told.
  • Love Martyr: Cara Carozza, who is deeply in love with Mabuse despite the fact that he doesn't give a crap about her, and is actually after Countess Told. She participates in his evil schemes, up to the murder of Hull, because she loves him. She refuses to incriminate him after she's arrested for Hull's murder, because she loves him. When Mabuse has one of his mooks infiltrate the jail and hand her some poison with instructions to take it, she does, and dies.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Some of the tricks Mabuse does as Weltmann the magician could have been done by mundane means, but others are definitely done using his psychic powers.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mabuse, again. He manipulates people to his own gain, drives them to suicide, and successfully outsmarts police. Till the end.
  • Master of Disguise: Mabuse; however, Lang intentionally makes these Paper Thin Disguises for the benefit of the audience.
  • Match Cut: From the hands of gamblers at a gambling table to the hands of the attendees of a seance.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Dr. Mabuse does it at least in once scene.
  • Mind Rape: Mabuse drives a patient to suicide with nothing except the power of his words.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Mabuse is a respected psychoanalyst and hypnotist, talents he incorporates into his evil schemes.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Mabuse is, as stated above, a psychoanalyst, and he drives Count Told to suicide with a mixture of naturalistic perversion of the therapeutic process and hypnotic suggestion while pretending to treat him.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: As pointed out by Spoerri's friend, who mentions the "termination plan" and then makes a throat-cutting gesture.
  • Scream Discretion Shot: A silent example. After one offscreen instance of the aforementioned driven-to-suicide, one character walks in to discover the body. Cue titlecard: "BLOOD!"
  • Shadow Dictator: Mabuse again, though he runs a criminal network, not a government.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Wenk.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Von Wenk is told that somebody forced Count Told to cheat at cards using hypnotic force, and that Dr. Mabuse was the only party guest who Countess Told didn't already know. Then he suggests that Count Told go to Dr. Mabuse for therapy...
  • Upper-Class Twit: Edgar Hull, one of Mabuse's victims.
  • The Vamp: Subverted with Mabuse's lover, dancer Cara Carozza. She seduces men for evil goals, but not because she is evil herself, but for Mabuse, because she loves him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After realizing that he is trapped in the counterfeiting room and will be caught, Mabuse has a complete meltdown. He hallucinates the ghosts of all the people he's ordered to die over the course of the movie, including Cara. By the time the cops finally enter the room Mabuse is in a catatonic trance.
  • Villain Protagonist

Alternative Title(s): Dr Mabuse, Doctor Mabuse

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