||There was a pleasing symmetry to Fritz Lang's filmography, as although Dr. Mabuse The Gambler was not his first film to make an impact, it was probably the one that endured from the silent days aside from his masterwork Metropolis, with his adventure Spies hot on their heels. Yet it was Mabuse that proved his initial, most lasting influence, a mix of thriller, science fiction and paranoid melodrama that may look stagey today but was energising and electrifying to nineteen-twenties audiences, no matter how Metropolis surpassed it shortly after.
Mabuse endured throughout popular culture in a manner that the fictional villain, who lives on thanks to his mastery of mind control in his followers despite being apparently dead, though not really in the form of the character so much as other filmmakers imitating what Lang had conjured up. The criminal mastermind, head of an organisation dedicated to destruction and evil, became such a cliché in the ensuing years that by the sixties it was impossible to escape on film, television, books or comics, proving itself irresistible to these efforts.
With the rise of the Nazis, and later, the Cold War, that fear someone may be planning your demise and the demise of all you hold dear was so potent that it has lasted to this day, though you could argue that Lang's emergence in Weimar Germany gave him good reason to be concerned that society was about to be horrendously corrupted by despicable forces. As the twentieth century moved towards the twenty-first and we were supposed to have put all these terrors behind us, somehow they emerged once again in alternate forms.
Therefore for Lang to end his career with The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse was both a nice tribute to his own power as a filmmaker and trendsetter, and a warning that the world was not about to give up these bogeymen any time soon. Not that he wanted to end on this movie, he had other projects planned and lived past 1960 up to 1976, but his health was failing - he gradually became blind, a terrible affliction for a visual artist - and his reputation as a tyrant on the set meant that despite his standing, fewer and fewer people wanted to work with him.
Mind you, they worked with Otto Preminger, who was not dissimilar in reputation, so perhaps it was his health that was the prime reason his career abruptly ended with his last Dr. Mabuse instalment. The title referred to the cameras the villain has had installed around the Luxor Hotel, his base of operations, the most ghastly horror Lang could conjure up being the invasion of privacy that nowadays seems almost archaic given there are now cameras on almost every street and almost every person, and privacy is invaded by personal online invitation.
But here, it was Mabuse's obsession with control and wheedling out everyone's secrets that marked him out as a real bad 'un, where the characters, good and evil, are being manipulated by one man who is either Mabuse himself, back from the grave, or so far under his influence that it makes no difference whether the Doktor is alive or not. Thus that suspicion the ideas of Nazism will continue to creep up and threaten democracy was brought out in what was essentially a pulp adventure yarn - Nazis are even suggested and discussed in the dialogue, unusual for a German film of this era.
Peter Van Eyck was the hero, a businessman who becomes embroiled with a would-be suicidal woman, Dawn Addams, who he rescues from the hotel's window ledge, but she has connections to the organisation scheming behind the scenes (and spying on everyone). Also around was a blind psychic (Wolfgang Preiss) who tells police inspector Gert Frobe what is about to happen, adding a dash of the fantastical, and also with Frobe here the connections to James Bond were more explicit - he would play the villain in Goldfinger, which also featured a rotating car number plate. All congregated at the Luxor for a lot of earnest conversation punctuated with gunfire and explosions, culminating in a car chase shootout, which was as it should be. If this wasn't Lang at his best, as a tribute to himself, however you took that, it appealed.
[The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is released on Blu-ray by Eureka with the following features:
LIMITED EDITION O-CARD SLIPCASE [First Print Run of 2000 copies only]
1080p presentation on Blu-ray
Original German soundtrack
Optional English audio track, approved by Fritz Lang
Optional English subtitles
Feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat
2002 interview with Wolfgang Preiss
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned and original poster artwork
PLUS: a collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp; vintage reprints of writing by Lang; an essay by David Cairns; notes by Lotte Eisner on Lang's final, unrealised projects.]