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 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
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 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:
- Action Prologue
- 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.
- The Chessmaster: Mabuse
- Chewing the Scenery: Mabuse does this when Carozza tries to warn him to watch out for Wenk.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Villain Protagonist