CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Know Mabuse, And You Sir Are No Mabuse

The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is the sort of film you would get if you let James Cameron direct Terminator 3, which is to say a very well made film that still pales in comparison to its predecessors. Fritz Lang approached the idea of Dr. Mabuse at three times during his career: first as a rising silent film director, second after the immense success of M just before he had to flee Germany, and the third as his final film. The 1,000 Eyes doesn't feel like a final film though. Its technical aspects are as accomplished as they were for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, though less emphasis is placed on that new fangled sound element. Here, the most distinct feature is the editing, and the viewer can clearly tell that Lang and his editor Walter Wischniewsky are having a lot of fun. Fortunately, the fun isn't limited to them. The cutting on the opening scene hinges on the word "murder," and different scenes are connected by the similarities of sounds. It's entertaining to watch, and saves the film from becoming a bore.

If The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a commentary on the impending Nazi rise to power, then The 1000 Eyes is all about Cold War paranoia. There are only two major characters who aren't hiding major pieces of their identities (including, strangely enough, the American), but each character only gets one about face. Once the lovably jolly insurance salesman starts noticing things, it's abundantly clear that he's hiding behind a facade. In fact, it's abundantly clear that a twist is coming, but the plot is too full of them to really involve the audience. By the end of the film, I couldn't really tell what the danger was, except that involved a nuclear plant. That's the film's main flaw: it spends too much time in what originally appear to be inanities like the relationship between the American and a suicidal girl. We feel no sense of great danger from this sense of Mabuse because the film is too detached from where the danger is. Similarly, the reasoning behind how some random guy got his hands on the Testament of Dr. Mabuse or how it could have influenced him is not given, leaving us with some random madman with some sort of plan to take over the American's nuclear plant and . . . destroy the world?

This is one place where The Testament is a much better movie. We don't know the extent of the Doctor's plans, but we see that there are people dying and buildings destroyed in this plan. This plan is complete and utter anarchy, and we can clearly see that. The new Mabuse's plan is so vague that it's hard to picture how exactly it will be so destructive. It become a matter of distance. This incarnation of Mabuse is too far from the original, who died at the end of The Testament, and the grand evil plan is too distanced from what we see. Mabuse isn't even responsible for the massive spying system installed in the hotel (damn Nazis). This aspect continues the idea of Cold War paranoia, but it never becomes a significant piece of the story. We can see somebody is watching our hero, but the implications are never addressed.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the film is its pacing. When watching The Testament, it was fun to watch these different story strands slowly coming together. There was a sense of destiny to the plot, a feeling from the very start that things would come together and that it would be exciting to watch. The 1000 Eyes, on the other hand, feels like a collection events tangentially related. There's an American and the girl he saved from suicide (the whole hypnosis aspect is barely mentioned), an insurance man just hanging around, and a police inspector looking into the murder of a television reporter. Only one is even related to the name Mabuse until well over half way into the movie. By that time, I was just hoping the movie would end so I could watch a movie worthy of Lang's talent. Maybe Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, the movie that started the tale of the good doctor.

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