Dr. Mabuse the Gambler

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler; a Long Classic

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, a black-and-white film made in 1922, will appeal to lovers of classic cinema. To enjoy it, though, one needs to like silent movies, and be prepared to sit through its extraordinary length; the film is 270 minutes long, divided into two parts.

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler was directed by famed German film pioneer Fritz Lang, based on the novels of Norbert Jacques. Lang also made two Dr. Mabuse sequels, with sound. The German title is Dr. Mabuse die Spieler, which plays on the double meaning of the German word; a spieler is either a player in a game, or the puppet-master manipulating those around him. That certainly describes Dr. Mabuse, the master criminal at the heart of the stories. With this in mind, Dr. Mabuse the Player might be a better translation than Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.

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Convoluted Plot of Gambling and Counterfeiting

As a master of disguise and an expert in hypnosis and mind control, Dr. Mabuse makes a very good living from gambling and crime. He uses his powers to win at cards in gambling houses by night, and uses the proceeds to finance his counterfeiting and racketeering operations. The police start taking an interest in the gambler after he wins a fortune from the son of a rich industrialist, whom he has first mesmerised.

Dr. Mabuse manages to escape a police trap, but he also murders the young man he cheated, who has been helping the police. Dr. Mabuse’s lover, Carozza, is imprisoned for the crime. She won’t betray him, however, and a Countess gets involved in trying to worm the truth out of her. Dr. Mabuse’s revenge is to hypnotise the Countess’ husband, so that he is caught cheating at cards, and Mabuse then abducts the Countess.

Murder and Suicide Abound                                                                      

The second part of the film chronicles Mabuse’s manipulation of the disgraced Count, and his attempts to make sure that his underlings keep their mouths shut. A henchman smuggles poison to Carozza in jail, which she takes out of love for Dr. Mabuse. The crime lord also has one of his henchman killed, fearing another betrayal, and he hypnotises the Count into committing suicide.

As the police close in, Mabuse is trapped in a counterfeiting workshop, tormented by the ghosts of those he has killed. When he is captured, he is confined to an insane asylum.

Great Vintage Cinema

Because of its extraordinary length, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is not often shown, even in cinemas dedicated to vintage silent movies. Serious movie fans, however, will find it well worth the effort, as it is considered by many to be one of the top films Lang made. It shows of his masterful use of light and shadow, which is vitally important in black-and-white storytelling. The special effects, as in the haunting scene, were state-of-the-art at the time.

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler was released in several versions, most of them cut down from Lang’s original four-and-a-half hours. A Russian edit, made shortly after the film’s release, reduced it to a single film rather than a two-parter. Renowned Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein was a member of the editing team.