The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

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If you enjoy a good crime movie, you might consider watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. It’s in German and was directed by Fritz Lang, who made Metropolis and M and later emigrated to the U.S. It’s old-fashioned in some ways, which is understandable, since it was completed in 1933. 

But there are many aspects of it that feel current. A criminal mastermind, Dr. Mabuse (in German, that’s pronounced “Mah-boo-zeh”) has lost his mind and is locked up in an insane aslyum. He spends his days and nights writing perfectly conceived plans for various crimes.

Unfortunately, Dr. Mabuse is being cared for by a physician, Professor Baum, who is almost as crazy as he is. Professor Baum collects the plans Dr. Mabuse tosses on the floor and uses them to build a criminal empire.

Professor Baum eventually directs his criminal minions to launch a crime wave like no other. He orders them to blow up a chemical plant, destroy food supplies, poison the water, create epidemics and debase the currency, all with the intention of terrorizing the population:

When humanity, subjugated by the terror of crime, has been driven insane by fear and horror, and when chaos has become supreme law, then the time will have come for the empire of crime.

There is a quirky but clever police inspector leading the investigation and a disgraced detective who tries to redeem himself. A suspect is interrogated. Ballistic evidence is considered. A strange message is decoded. An early version of a SWAT team is summoned to deal with barricaded criminals. A couple is locked in a room and told they only have three hours to live. There are explosions and a car chase. There are jokes and special effects.

Aside from the crisp black and white photography, the dated decor and the subtitles, this movie could be playing at a multiplex near you!

On top of that, the movie has political overtones. Fritz Lang was seriously concerned about the Nazis taking power. When the crazy Professor Baum issues his commands, he sounds like a dictator giving threatening orders to his subordinates. It’s said that Lang used actual quotations from the Nazis in the movie’s script.

Before The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was released, the German minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, ordered it banned. He claimed that it would incite public disorder and decrease the public’s confidence in the government. He may have had a point, considering that the film is about an extraordinary criminal organization and the government in question was run by Adolph Hitler.

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