“Hieronymus B. Mistelzweig: ‘B’ stands for ‘belly’”
‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse’ from 1960, the last film directed by Fritz Lang, is an action packed, Hollywood style thriller with, as expected from Lang, touches of German expressionism and a distinct look. It’s a film along the lines of the Fu Manchu series: an international master-criminal, Dr. Mabuse, blackmails, defrauds and sabotages his way through Germany. What sets this apart from the Moriarty/Fu Manchu mould is Lang’s expert direction: the scenes are tight and the sets are solid but all slightly askew. The characters are askew as well, each with quirks including one of the heroes, a cop played by Gert Fröbe (more famous for playing Goldfinger in the Bond movie). It’s strange to see Fröbe speaking in his own accent, and even stranger to see him as an action hero, at one stage running through a hotel lobby and getting into a gunfight. The other thing that drew my attention was the early use of surveillance to create drama. Arguably, Lang’s movie predates the surveillance genre in Hollywood by over ten years and anticipates the social preoccupation with being watched and recorded that reached a climax during the Watergate scandal. ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse’ is, therefore a key text midway Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Watergate that demonstrates the potential corruption of technology for criminal purposes. Lang uses surveillance in a fascinating way by introducing a ‘psychic’ character and a spiritual subplot to his movie and connecting them with the advanced technology. It’s a rich, engrossing film that throws everything into the plot: Nazis, psychics, Interpol, bombs, assassins, and even finds time for a very Hollywood romance. It’s not on ‘the list’ but it knocks the socks off the cheap and clichéd Fu Manchu films.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely: if you like Holmes or Bond then this film will press all your buttons.