The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was Fritz Lang’s last film in his native Germany. Soon after his completion of the film he fled Germany because of his Jewish ancestry and the fact the Nazi head of propaganda banned his film and also because he went Lang to make films for them. It is a sequel to his previous film in the Dr. Mabuse series but having not seen the earlier film will not diminish the effect of the sequel.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse opens with disgraced Detective Hofmeister who escapes from his criminal attackers. He phones his former superior inspector Karl Lohmann and frantically tells him he has discovered a huge criminal conspiracy. Before he can discloses the identity of the responsible criminal, shots and fired and he goes mad and institutionalized at Prof. Baum’s mental institute.
Baum introduces the case of Dr. Mabuse who went bad and crazy 10 year previously. Mabuse writes detailed plans for crimes and is the head of the crime syndicate. A colleague of Baum’s is shot and killed by Mabuse’s execution squad. There is clue scratched on a window. Lohmann suspects Mabuse but it’s revealed Mabuse died that morning. The rest of the film is Lohmann’s investigate in the crime syndicate.
The film is a complex endlessly fascination crime sage with a strange supernatural twist to it. Fritz Lang later regretted the supernatural element but it’s ads this wonderful off kilter aspect to the crime film. The film is one of the last grasps of German expressionism but is shot in a much realistic style than most German expressionism. It’s not quite up to the beauty of Lang’s Metropolis or M. It’s a near masterpiece with some slight pacing issues but saying that the previous Mabuse film was over 4 hours long (I haven’t seen it yet).
The Nazis banned the film because according to Joseph Goebbels “showed that a extremely dedicated group of people are perfectly capable of overthrowing any state with violence”. It is a very cynical look at the government/officials who are rather useless in the film and can’t do anything about the syndicate.
The film is wonderfully photographed and has enough twist and turns to keep you guessing. It’s not as good as some of Lang’s previous masterpiece but what are? Not many films. It’s a wonderfully offbeat mix of cop drama, mystery and horror and it’s a wonderful piece of proto-noir. It has been lovingly restored by Eureka for Masters of Cinema on blu-ray.