The Return Of Dr. Mabuse (1961)

Directed by Harald Reinl
Gert Frobe, Lex Barker, Daliah Lavi, Fausto Tozzi, Wolfgang Preiss
Music by Peter Sandloff

An undercover police officer sits alone in a compartment on a train. A suitcase is chained to his wrist. He is transporting some valuable documents from the USA to Germany that incriminate the mob.

A handicapped man with a wooden leg enters the train compartment. The officer insists that he sits elsewhere as he is in a restricted compartment. The handicapped man complains that his wooden leg is causing him discomfort. The officer relents and allows him to be seated. Soon after, the train rushes through a tunnel (no sexual symbolism here). When the train exits the tunnel, both men are gone and the window is open.

Next we meet Inspector Lohmann (Gert Frobe – most people will recognise Frobe as Goldfinger, from the film of the same name). Lohmann is about to go on leave; an extended fishing trip. But as he is about to head off, wouldn’t you know it, the phone rings. Lohmann is called back to duty, to investigate the murder of the police officer whose body was found by the railroad tracks.

Lohmann’s investigations lead him to some interesting characters. The first is Joe Como (Lex Barker). Como is supposed to be an FBI agent sent to infiltrate the Mob. But he may be Nick Scapio, a Mafia hoodlum posing as Como. We also meet Maria Sabrehm (an incredibly youthful Daliah Lavi). She is the daughter of a scientist, who was falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Her father, Professor Sabrehm (Rudolph Forster), is now serving time in the local prison. That brings us to the prison doctor Bohmier, (Werner Peters), who have some unusual methods for rehabilitating the inmates.

What about Dr. Mabuse himself? He isn’t seen for most of the picture, but we hear his voice over the phone, and through microphones that seem to be planted all over the city. Somehow, Mabuse is controlling the inmates at the prison with an injection that turns them into mindless goons. Once the prisoners are attuned to Mabuse’s commands he sends them off, outside the prison walls, to do his bidding. In this instalment in the Mabuse series, his goal is to take over the cities nuclear power plant.

Initially Lohmann belies that the Warden is somehow involved in the crimes that are being committed in the name of Dr. Mabuse, but after the Warden’s car is blown up in the main street, his suspicions have to divert elsewhere.

This film features one great set piece, where Como and Maria are trapped in a generator room at the prison. Mabuse opens a series of water valves and the room begins to flood. We’ve all seen this scenario before (Espionage In Tangiers, springs to mind, and I seem to remember an episode of Get Smart, where Max was trapped in a phone booth that began to fill with water). But Como’s solution to this problem is better than most.

Another great element to this film is the music by Peter Sandloff. I must confess I don’t know much about Sandloff, but his hot stompin’ jazz score to this film is fantastic. There is a great catchy saxophone riff that once you have heard it, it will get stuck in your head for days.

The Return Of Dr. Mabuse is barely more than an amplified crime film, but it’s enigmatic villain, with his hidden microphones and cameras is clearly a Super Villain. He is one of the templates for the cinematic Blofelds of the world and is worthy of inclusion on this blogsite.

This film won’t please everyone, firstly because it is in German, so you’ll either have to watch a dubbed copy or read subtitles. Secondly it is in black and white. And third, by today’s standards, it is light on for action and the special effects, aren’t that special. But, if you are interested in the evolution of spy films to this day, this film will be of great interest, and provide solid entertainment. It may not be as canonical as some of the other Mabuse films, but it is definitely worth a look.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

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