Friday, July 16, 2010

#231: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

(Fritz Lang, 1933)

This is a pretty dark movie. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, coming from Lang, who made two of the great films of early cinema, Metropolis and M (which was just re-released by Criterion on Blu Ray). But even with this pedigree, the movie was shockingly nihilistic, terrifying, and experimental. Considering the fact that it was made in 1933, the use of sound is strikingly effective, not just for talking but for psychological impact. And the super-imposed images of ghosts and specters are extremely effective.

The film isn't as spectacular as M (few are) but it does have social relevance: it was made during the rise of Hitler in Germany, and has the distinction of being the first film banned by the Nazis. Lang (who, like Hitler, was actually Austrian) saw the writing on the wall and left the country soon after, eventually making his way to America, where his most notable film was probably the noirish The Big Heat. But he never reclaimed the vanguard position he had early in his career with films like this one.

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