Two Maxwell Smarts, Two Doctor Mabuses: movies

GET SMART (2008) suffers from trying to be two things at once. On the one hand this reboot of the sixties spy spoof is a stock zero-to-hero story with Steve Carrell as a brilliant CONTROL analyst who gets his first shot at fieldwork alongside veteran agent Anne Hathaway (I wonder if the emphasis on Hathaway having undergone age-concealing plastic surgery is meant to duck the age disparity?); on the other, it wants to be a spy spoof so Carrell keeps pulling the same bonehead shticks as Don Adams (“Would you believe Chuck Norris with a BB gun?”) and the two never reconcile (it makes me appreciate how Adams could make Max’s occasional bursts of competence believable). And the climax is pure action film, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The cast includes Alan Arkin as Chief of CONTROL, Bill Murray as Agent 13, Mako Osai of Heroes as a tech nerd, Terence Stamp playing Siegfried perfectly serious, Patrick Warburton as Hymie the robot, James Caan as a nitwit President Bush II knockoff and Dwayne Johsnon as Agent 23 (who gets a twist that I spotted early). “Hey guard why don’t you come in here so I can make you my pretty little girlfriend?”

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933) is the sequel to Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler in which Mabuse, despite being insane and committed to an asylum, wreaks so much havoc even his agents are unsettled (without giving away too much, it’s one of those films where the terrorism looks horrifyingly plausible and effective). This time he has a more formidable adversary in Otto Wernicke as Inspector Lohmann (plus a henchman who wants out) but it’s still Mabuse’s show. This has a number of excellent special features, most notably commentary by Mabuse expert David Kalat (which goes into detail on Lang’s dubious claim the film is an anti-Nazi allegory) and a documentary The Three Faces of Mabuse. This compares the original masterpiece to the shorted French version (filmed by Lang with French actors for the French market) and a later American cut, The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse. A great DVD from Criterion. “No-one has any idea what kind of phenomenal, superhuman mind came to an end with Dr. Mabuse’s death.”

THE LAST WILL OF DR. MABUSE (1933) was the American title for the French version (as Kalat notes, “will” has a double meaning in a Mabuse film) which was included on the Criterion DVD. Not as good as the German — Lohmann is much less impressive and forceful here — and with one change Kalat didn’t mention, Mabuse being described at the start as a super-hypnotist with a history of mesmerizing people into crime. Worth the added time it took to see it. “The testament of Mabuse? Is there such a thing?”

The TV movie GET SMART AGAIN (1989) was the good reunion film (I haven’t seen an earlier theatrical release, The Nude Bomb but I’ve never heard anything good about it) using some of the original creative team and all the original cast except Ed Platt as the Chief (Platt had passed away fifteen years earlier). KAOS acquires a weather control machine so US intelligence puts Max back in the field, reuniting with not only his old friends but archfoe Siegfried (played by the original actor, Bernie Koppell). Captures the show’s spirit perfectly; John de Lancie plays a KAOS mole and Harold Gould is a villain plotting to improve American literacy (“KAOS will publish the world’s great books, and if people don’t read them all — they die!”). “In 1969, KAOS traded him to THRUSH for two rookie killers and a minor-league mugger.”

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Filed under Movies

6 responses to “Two Maxwell Smarts, Two Doctor Mabuses: movies

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