The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Criterion Collection, $39.95

"Lost films" become their legends. Fritz Lang's Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), the director's last film before fleeing Germany, has taken its place in history as an allegory of the rise of Hitler. As long as the film was available only in incomplete and poorly preserved prints, the legend stood, but now that it has been released in a nearly pristine and nearly complete form (only two of its original 123 minutes couldn't be traced or fixed), the legend is laid to rest. The Testament turns out to be, like all of Lang's German oeuvre, essentially unpolitical, a pop product of expressionist entertainment. Not as gorgeously crazy as Metropolis nor as wrenchingly thrilling as M, it is nonetheless a worthy bridge between the magnificent paranoias of Lang's two-part, five-hour, silent Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and the sardonic Cold War fantasy of The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), Lang's last film.

In The Testament, master criminal and master of disguise Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is working his wiles by hypnotic thought transference from his padded cell in Dr. Baum's private loony bin. His antagonist this time is Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke, reprising his role from the smash hit M), whose zesty performance as a down-to-earth cop battling unknown psychic forces drives the action forward. Again the seedy world of criminal Berlin is brilliantly evoked, with now- unfashionable "expressionistic" touches confined to conveying an atmosphere of hysteria and dread.

Lang aficionados will hardly require David Kalat's audio commentary to appreciate the film, but those less familiar with the director's output will appreciate the orientation it provides, as well as Erwin Leiser's 1964 interview with Lang and Thomas Honickel's somewhat labored analysis of the Mabuse myth as German guilt-fantasy. Lang obsessives will appreciate the director's scene- by-scene, gesture-by-gesture replica of the film, shot simultaneously with a French-language cast, but the only surviving print, a 16 mm version with Dutch subtitles, offers little in itself.

Roger Downey

Also out June 1 are National Lampoon's Senior Trip, which recounts a botched high-school field trip, and Eddie Griffin and pals as fumbling fathers in My Baby's Daddy. On a slightly more serious note are two notable documentaries: Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, a portrait of the woman Charlize Theron won an Oscar for portraying, and the 20th anniversary edition of The Times of Harvey Milk, an excellent look at the accomplishments and murder of the gay-rights pioneer.


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