Dr. Mabuse (Ma-BOOZ-Ah) is a master criminal in the Fu Manchu/Dr. Moriarty mold. Hailing from Germany, though, hes more of an anarchist figure, aiming to bring down governments and cause worldwide instability. Director Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M) made two Mabuse films in pre-WWII Germany. It was the second of these, 1933s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (translated title, obviously), whose suppression by the Nazi government led to his fleeing the country. Our current subject was Mr. Langs last film, made when he finally returned to Germany in 1960. The film was popular enough in Europe to trigger a series of increasingly cheesy sequels throughout the next decade.
Eyes follows the machinations of Mabuses criminal organization as he schemes to gain control of an American billionaire. Early on theres a car-to-car murder committed with a needle-firing airgun. This not only cleverly references Dr. Moriarty, who menaced Sherlock Holmes with a similar weapon in The Final Solution, but furthermore replicates a killing that occurred in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse back in 1933.
Trying to clear things up is police Inspector Lohmann, played by Goldfingers Gert Frobe. Mr. Frobe was presumably chosen because hes reminiscent of actor Otto Wernicki, who played a similarly named detective featured in both M and Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Interestingly, Lohmann mirrors the detached tactics of his opponent. He also sends out flunkies and manipulates others to trigger a reaction, as if in a game of chess. That this might (and does) get people killed seems of less importance to him than catching Mabuse.
This isnt comparable to the authentic classics Mr. Lang made early in his career, but its a damn neat little picture. A sense of the gothic is added via a blind occultist, one who may know more than he lets on. Of course, this is the kind of movie where everyone might know more than he lets on. The pacing is especially good (although I suppose modern viewers might find it a tad pokey). Events move along in a clean, methodical manner until the approach of the climax, when things rapidly pick up speed. The cast is fine across the board, with Mr. Frobe offering an especially entertaining performance.
The film generally looks gorgeous. Author David Kalat, who has a hardcover history of the character coming out in May, basically founded a company to release these films on DVD. (At this point only this and the 1962 remake of Testament of Dr. Mabuse are available.) His heart in the project, he worked overtime to find the best materials possible. Near the end of the film there is some image degradation, the result of deteriorating film stocks. Sadly, the immediate sequel to this film has apparently disappeared entirely, not a fate youd expect for a commercial film made only thirty years ago. The sound is fairly crisp, and you have a choice (thankfully) between the original German language track or a dubbed English one. Presumably most will lean towards the first.
As youd expect from such a personal project, Mr. Kalat has loaded up the disc.
First, the disc comes with an attractive booklet reprinting an in-depth article on the film originally published in 1973.
The DVD itself opens with a highly amusing montage, composed of clips from the various films, of characters saying Mabuse. This is backed by a snazzy jazz piece that is sort of the theme music of the DVD series. The sequence begins once the disc is loaded, before the menu appears. So if you skip directly to the menu youll miss it.
Next is a selection of poster art for various films in the series, accompanied by trailers for the American releases of same when available. These often arent in very good shape, to say the least. Still, many are hilarious in terms of how they try to run away from the apparently non-commercial appeal of the Mabuse name here in the States. Generally they are sold as horror pictures. 1,000 Eyes was marketed under the title The Eye of Evil. The Return of Dr. Mabuse was renamed The Phantom Fiend. (This is the film thats apparently missing, which is a shame even the lame American trailer makes it look great.) Here the narrator mispronounces Mabuse to rhyme with caboose. (!) Meanwhile, The Invisible Dr. Mabuse is renamed The Invisible Horror and the trailer doesnt mention Mabuse at all.
Following is an informative documentary, The Eyes of Fritz Lang. As youd expect, this centers on his Mabuse films. Were told of the political problems he had with the Nazi government because of his films. Then, after fleeing his homeland, he faced the typical problems of an immigrant attempting to adapt to a new country. Finally we follow his return to Germany in 1960 to make 1,000 Eyes. Its a nice job, lasting over half an hour. Interviewed persons who knew Mr. Lang include the ubiquitous Forry Ackerman.
Also provided is a collection of photos, mostly covering advertising art and the films pressbook.
The discs big gun is an audio commentary by Mr. Kalat. Here he brings the knowledge gleaned while writing his book to bear. We get in-depth histories of the persons involved, from Lang to the various cast members. He also goes into detail on the onerous process of collecting suitable film materials for the disc. Personally, Id have liked him to talk more about the film itself. Still, thats a minor quibble at best. It seem likely that Mr. Kalat was reading from a prepared script, since on both this disc and the subsequent one his remarks end a good five minutes short of when the movie does.
Ken Begg, 4/4/2001