The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960)

AKA: Diabolical Dr. Mabuse , Eyes of Evil, The Shadow vs. the Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
Directed by Fritz lang
Peter Van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Wolfgang Preiss, Lupo Prezzo, Gert Frobe, Werner Peters, Andrea Checci, Christiane Maybach, Howard Vernon
Music by Gerhard Becker and Bert Grund

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse was legendary director Fritz Lang’s last film. While making this film his sight began to fail. The film was also the beginning of a new series of Mabuse films, but with each instalment the series slowly deteriorated.

First a little bit of background on Dr. Mabuse. Mabuse was a character created in the early 20th Century by author Norbert Jacques. In 1922, Lang took the character and made two silent epic films, The Great Gambler and Inferno (Generally this two part series in lumped together as Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler). The films featured Rudolph Klein-Rogge as Mabuse, who is a master criminal, in the style of Fantomas or Fu Manchu. In 1933 Lang made another Mabuse film, The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse also starring Klein-Rogge. With the rise of the Nazi party, Lang left Germany and headed to the United States where his movie career continued. Decades later, although he refused to live there, Lang returned to Germany to make his final entry in the Mabuse series – The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse.

The film opens with two cars pulling up at a red traffic light in downtown Berlin. In one of the cars is Peter Barter, a television reporter. He is rushing back to the studio with an important ‘breaking’ story. In the other car are two of Mabuse’s henchmen. From a violin case, one of the men produces a futuristic gun. He takes aim at Barter and shoots. With barely a sound, a fine needle is fired into Barter’s brain. Barter slumps over the steering wheel dead.

Simultaneously, Peter Cornelius (Wolfgang Preiss), a blind psychic, has a premonition of the murder and phones Inspector Krause (Gert Frobe) in an attempt to warn him, but is too late. The crime has all the hallmarks and style of crimes committed by Dr. Mabuse, but this can not be because Mabuse has been dead since the 1930’s. But there is still a crime to be solved and it appears to be centred around the Luxor Hotel. It it the last place that Barter had been seen alive. Co-incidently (?), over the last ten years, a series of unsolved crimes, thefts and murder have had one thing in common. All of the victims have stayed at the Luxor.

Currently staying at the Luxor is Henry B. Travers (Peter Van Eyck). He is a wealthy American industrialist who has just purchased an atomic rocket contract. Outside his window, on the ledge is Marion Menil (Dawn Addams). She is distressed and about to commit suicide. Travers goes to the window and calmly talks her inside. It appears Marion is very unstable. It is not long before her doctor arrives, Professor Jordan. He gives her a sedative and takes her away.

Meanwhile, Inspector Krause is on the case. The driver of the assassin’s vehicle has called Krause and says he will call again with vital information. But the stooley is killed by one of Mabuse’s men. The telephone call is still made to Krause, because a bomb has been planted in his phone. The phone rings, but Krause’s assistant picks it up and is killed in the explosion.

With very few clues to go on, Klause turns to Cornelius, the psychic for help. Cornelius arranges a séance, and Krause invites the few suspects he has as participants. As the lights are dimmed, Cornelius starts channelling. He says that Dr. Mabuse is behind the crimes. Before any further information is revealed, the window is shattered as a bullet from outside hits Krause’s chair. It’s a close call. While stylistically very different, it is interesting to compare this séance scene with the one in Lang’s Ministry Of Fear, which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Who and what are The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse? They are not the evil minions of Mabuse (as in The Million Eyes Of Sumuru), but refer to a sophisticated closed circuit surveillance system that Mabuse has set up in the Hotel Luxor. After watching and stage managing events throughout the Hotel, by manipulating Travers, Mabuse plans to obtain the nuclear arsenal being constructed, and of course, rule, control or destroy the world. And that brings us to Mabuse himself. Who is or claims to be Mabuse? Ahhh, that would be telling. The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse is a bit of a ‘whodunnit’. Could Mabuse be nosey insurance salesman Hieronymus P. Mistelzweig (Werner Peters), Peter Cornelius the psychic, Professor Jordan (a man who specialises in mental disorders), or Marion’s obsessively jealous clubfooted husband. It could be any of them. Rarely has a film had so many characters who are not as they seem.

The film has some good ideas that would be recycled in espionage movies in years to come. I have already mentioned the closed circuit television system. But the needle gun used in the opening scene reminds me of a similar scene in Live And Let Die, and the getaway car that Mabuse uses to escape from the police has revolving number plates, a idea that would be utilised in the Aston Martin in Goldfinger.

Ultimately The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse is a good film; but I wouldn’t say it’s a great film. It has some memorable scenes, and as with all of Lang’s work there is some very impressive set design, especially the home of Peter Cornelius, whose walls are decorated with three dimensional astrological symbols. But the plot is a bit convoluted. Sure Mabuse is a criminal genius, but he seems to interfere with his own scheme way too often. Maybe that’s the characters madness coming through, but I think it may be poor story telling. And as a ‘whodunnit’, well I am pretty hopeless at guessing the culprit in this type of film – but I got it straight away (and so did my 11 year old son) – so it isn’t too effective on that level.

I am sounding a bit negative, but that is because this is a Lang film. This film is better than it’s sequels The Return Of Dr. Mabuse and The Invisible Dr. Mabuse which I reviewed in June, but it is a step down from some of the other Lang films I have looked at – Spies in August, and The Ministry Of Fear in October.

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