Criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse was introduced in print in the 1920s in Norbert Jacques’ Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. As my friend Ross got me the most recent of the many Mabuse movies for Christmas, I figured I’d rewatch them starting with Fritz Lang’s DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER: The Great Gambler, a Picture for Our Times (1922). Here Mabuse (pronounced like “a boozer,” not “abuse”) runs a brilliant criminal enterprise (we see a major caper involving stock fraud in the first few scenes) but his real passion is “gambling with men’s lives, with their faiths.” Which is to say, he amuses himself ruining their lives in games of chance (his hypnotic ability guarantees a win) even though he doesn’t need their money. When he encounters Countess Dusy Told, he realizes she’s as detached from humanity as he is (though less evil) and destroys her husband (forces him to cheat) so he can claim her for his own. This is so melodramatic I’m not sure it would work away from the silent screen, but work it does. “I think it’s safe for you to let room 321 to someone else now.”
As was the custom back then, Fritz Lang finished the story in DR MABUSE INFERNO: A Game of People of Our Time (1922) which aired the night after the first. Here Mabuse proves himself surprisingly human as his passion for Dusy starts to crack him. At the same time, he brilliantly anticipates any move by the movie’s nominal hero, the prosecutor von Wenk; as a former lover of Mabuse gloats, nobody can stop the great mastermind except himself. In many ways Mabuse is a forerunner of Blofeld or the Kingpin, a man who controls everything from behind the scenes and crushes all his foes. With Rudolph Klein Rogge as Mabuse, this is well wroth catching, even at 4.5 hours. “I want to be a giant, a titan, who churns laws and gods like withered leaves!”
I had high hopes for Ian McKellan’s MR. HOLMES (2015), portraying the Great Detective in the 1940s as he finds himself sliding closer to death and worse, losing the sharpness of his wits. From there we join Holmes in his flashback booth as he remembers the case that convinced him to quit, and a visit to Japan after Hiroshima. Unfortunately the narrative (which I think is meant to dramatize Holmes looking over the failures of his life) doesn’t hold together (there’s really no point to the Japan trip) and while I don’t require absolute fidelity to the Canon in a film, the script is very un-Holmes (declaring he despises imagination, for instance — Doyle’s Holmes considered it a vital tool of his trade) and doesn’t offer any compensation. With Laura Linney as Holmes’ housekeeper and Nicholas Rowe (Young Sherlock Holmes) as a screen Sherlock. “The money was to arrange for the headstones your husband would not allow.”
Jim Brown is SLAUGHTER (1972), ex-Green Beret and “the baddest cat that ever walked the earth” seeking vengeance on on mobster Rip Torn for murdering Slaughter’s parents, a quest that happily requires Brown to do the nasty with Torn’s blonde mistress Stella Stevens. This isn’t as well structured as Shaft or Pam Grier’s Coffy, as witness we never really learn what deep secret Brown’s dad had to be killed to hide (admittedly if I liked the movie better I wouldn’t mind) and the revenge plotline wraps up a bit too conveniently. With Cameron Mitchell as The Man. “Be careful Dominic, your lack of patience is what brought him here.”
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