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Hofmeister (Karl Meixner), an ex-police detective fallen from grace because
of bribery, calls his former boss, Kommissar (= commissioner) Lohmann (Otto
Wernicke, who played the same role in M from 2 years earlier) to warn
him of a terrible crimewave, but before he can spill the beans of who is behind
all this - it's of course Doctor Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) - the lights go
out, a scream ... & he is found totally bonkers & put into the mental
asylum run by professor Baum (Oskar Beregi).
Another guest at this asylum is Doctor Mabuse (put there at the end
of Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler) who seems to have totally retreated to an
autistic-like state, the only thing he does is writing maniacally.
That would put him above suspicion one might think, but of course what he
writes are indeed foolproof plans for future crimes, and he has immense
hypnotic abilities that allow him to influence Doctor Baum himself to put up a
massive criminal organization that in his name commits terrible crimes, with
Mabuse never even leaving the cell. Crimes include forging money, jewel theft
& driving people in power to suicide by infernal blackmailing.
But to what end ?, one might ask. Mabuse wants to destabilize the state
& put himself, the great crimelord, into power. At first everything works
nice & dandy, with everyone who opposes Mabuse in the slightest being bumped off, & employees who question him in the slightest
being dealt with
accordingly. & when Lohmann finds the first traces that actually lead to
Mabuse, that is no problem for Mabuse either - he just dies (for real) & takes
over Baum's body (!?).
He hasn't accounted for one of his goons though, Kent (Gustav Diessl), the
killer with a heart of gold who turned to crime because of long term
unemployment but got his head set straight by good girl Lilli (Wera Liessem).
This however only leads for the 2 of them to be locked into a room with a
timebomb, & only Kent's resourcefulness - he floods the room to both dampen
the bombs explosion & ultimately blow them a way to freedom - can save
However, Lohmann hasn't been idle meanwhile as he has tracked down &,
after a shoot-out, arrested part of Mabuse's/Baum's gang, & even though
Baum originally seems to be above all suspicion (as none of the gang know his
name of what he looks like), Lohmann is convinced of his involvement &,
when Kent arrives to make his statement, he takes him to a chemical plant that
the Mabuse gang blows up, where they finally can spot Baum in person.
They pursue him in a wild car-chase, but lose him - only to discover, when
they pop up at his asylum, that he is already there, & has taken Mabuse's
old cell, all of a sudden completely off the hook ...
Fritz Lang has directed a very slick & stylish crime picture here, &
the story - especially considering the time the film was made - can be read as
a metaphor for Hitler taking over Germany, & the fact that the film was
forbidden in Germany upon its release (it premiered in France & Austria in
1933) seems to emphasize on that. And even from today's point of view, some of
Mabuse's methods of terrorism seem terribly contemporary.
All this however cannot hide the fact that the script, in many ways, is very
uneven, even trashy: Mabuse's malevolence always borders simplistic comicbook
villainy, not at all helped by the fact that he can (or so it seems in the
movie) leave his own body & possess somebody else just like that. On top of
that, the central love story of Kent & Lilli, that ultimately turns
Kent from villain to hero is just awfully cheesy (not at all helped by only
mediocre acting of Gustav Diessl & Wera Liessem).