Oprah Movie Club Pick for January: Dr. Mabuse: the Gambler

1922 crime drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The title villain tries to cheat and hypnotize and disguise his way to the top while a detective tries to find and stop him.

I'd like to apologize for two things:

1) Being late with this Oprah entry. I promised the end of the month, and I'm a few days tardy. Of course, if you really care about the Oprah Movie Club, you already knew that was going to happen.

2) Picking the longest fucking movie ever made for the first Oprah Movie Club pick for 2016. This movie, at least the version that I saw, was a tad over four hours long, and it actually felt a little longer than that.

I wouldn't mind that length if the movie were more engaging, but this was pretty boring. And keep in mind that I'm typing that as a cinephile who likes silent movies a lot. I'm a silentcinephile. But I think I'd rather have stared at that poster up there for fifteen minutes than watch this for a little over four hours.

Not that it's a terrible movie. The story is fine, really a solid tale of a super-villain. It didn't take movie guys long to start naming their movies after the nefarious characters. Mabuse isn't a wacky 20's super-villain either. He doesn't rub his hands together, throw his head back, and laugh or anything like that. Rudolf Klein-Reige plays him in his many incarnations (see, he's a master of disguise long before Dana Carvey ruined that phrase for Hollywood), and he's really good. He's got these great eyes, and if Fritz Lang did nothing else right, this would still be worth watching for all the shots of those eyes. He's really mesmerizing, the kind of character who you enjoy watching so much that you get irritated whenever he's not around. The disguises were cool, and the conflict would have been engaging enough if it wasn't stretched over four hours. Scenes dragged, title cards felt like novellas, and eyes drooped. I started to wonder if Lang was being paid by the minute like Charles Dickens was paid by the word.

It does have its moments. The climax in the sewer, a sequence that features double-exposure ghosts and great shadows, is fun although I just kept thinking about how a paranoid chase sequence was done better in M. Lang's use of shadows and light is great although I just kept thinking about how Metropolis came a few years after this and blew everything else away. There's a naked woman on a half shell, my favorite kind of woman/shell combination. There's what has to be one of cinema's first car chases featuring shaky cam. And there's a really great hypnotizing scene where light is used about as perfectly as light can be used. But those moments are submerged in this miasma of tedium, the story just sort of oozing toward a finish line that you start to feel will never even come.

I'm being awfully negative about a movie that I'm rating a 16/20.

With a great super-villain, an almost-interesting cat-and-mouse game, and some very cool early-20's movie tricks, this is worth watching. I did it in two installments and probably needed four to put me in a slightly better mood. It's one of those movies that you probably have to watch in order to even be called a silentcinephile, but it's definitely going to make you sleepy.

I'm wondering if this is all my fault. Maybe I'm too tired and old for a four hour silent movie these days. Or maybe I have to reacclimate myself to the ebbs and flows of silent cinema. It has been a while since I've really immersed myself in movies from the 20s.

Did anybody else make it through this?


Anonymous said...

i have only seen part one(recently) so i didnt read your review yet. i have seen this before but i dont remember what happens. i just keep experiencing deja vu. i love the sets in this as a 20s german dada cabaret world. the actor playing Dr mabuse is awesome. the petit casino is one of the greatest sets ever. and i think it is that scene where the fat thug and his dancing cigar steal the scene(seriously rewatch that). i'll watch part 2 soon.

Shane said...

You probably like this more than me. I don't remember a fat thug or a cigar, but you're right about the casino set and Klein-Reige's great performance.

Anonymous said...

it took me a few more than 2 installments but i loved this movie. i felt like it was always engaging. i cant wait to watch the other mabuse movies. solid 18. this movie is set(was filmed) during the early years of psychoanalysis and i can imagine a fear being built up around this new "science". some of these early special effects worked really well. i thoroughly enjoyed the scene of Wenk driving toward the cliff with the hypnotic suggestion written in the sky. the final scene where mabuse begins to lose his mind and the room comes alive reminded me a lot of metropolis. so you can see the germ of what was to become in this movie.

Shane said...

You're probably more right than I am about this one. I'm going to change my rating to a 16. I thought that's what I had given it anyway.