Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) - dir. Fritz Lang
1922, Norbert Jacque’s diabolical Dr. Mabuse was first unleashed
upon German audiences, with the publication of Dr. Mabuse der
Spieler (Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler). Jacques’ villain was
an amalgam of traits characterizing Germany during its economic
crisis following the first World War. German culture was no longer
united by any single value system. This, along with an absence
of rigid class structure, opened a window of opportunity for resourceful,
unscrupulous individuals to gain levels of power and wealth that
were inaccessible just a few years earlier. Dr. Mabuse was just
such an individual. He gambled not just with money, but with people’s
lives. By manipulating the stock market, and using his profound
knowledge of psychiatry and hypnosis, he exploited the social
decay for his personal gain.
That same year, Fritz Lang unveiled the cinematic version of the
story. It was a commercial success, and was seen as a critique
on the current state of the country. As German citizens became
more and more disenchanted toward their “democratic”
institutions that failed to actuate any of the reforms they promised,
it became increasingly clear that such a politically unstable
state would prove ripe for tyrannical forces.
In 1933, as Adolf Hitler was granted dictatorial power in Germany,
Lang released his second Mabuse film, this one involving the themes
of propaganda, hypnosis, and terrorism: Das Testament
des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse). The film
opens with a man crouching behind a storage box in a factory.
He’s clearly shaken, paranoid, and if the handgun to which
he clings is any indication, afraid for his life. He escapes the
factory by the skin of his teeth, dodging falling objects and
explosive barrels rolling after him. The man is Hofmeister, a
detective, and has been investigating organized crime. He has
just learned who is behind an enormous criminal conspiracy. But
before he can report his findings to his head inspector, the gangsters
catch up with him and scare the sense out of him. Driven mad by
fear, he cannot speak coherently, and is admitted into the local
The asylum is run by Dr. Baum, a psychiatrist with a keen, almost
obsessive interest in a certain master criminal whose nefarious
career ended several years earlier: Dr. Mabuse. The mad doctor
is confined in his asylum cell, and sits up in his bed, his jaw
hanging open as he stares into the abyss. Ever since he went mad
several years earlier, the master criminal has been recording
his testament. His testament is a terrorist manifesto, containing
his meticulous, scrawled out orders for unfathomable crimes, as
well as the principles for the Empire of Crime. Mabuse has no
direct contact with the world residing beyond his cell. Nevertheless,
a series of crimes are occurring that, coincidentally, perfectly
match those described in his testament.
The terrorist ideology in the film is without political bias.
It is a promotion of terrorism purely as a tool to create and
maintain an atmosphere of insecurity. This lack of political partisanship
should be appealing to Satanists, since we prefer to use tools
pragmatically instead of getting distracted by any single ideal.
On top of that, the film will appeal to Satanists for its portrayal
of terrorism. It exposes the inconvenient fact that terror can
be wrought for the simple purpose of creating an effect, that
it does not have to be the outcome of any redeeming philosophy.
In other words, terror can be generated for the sake of terror.
Fear is such an easily tapped resource for motivation, that it
can become irresistible for those capable of using it as a means
to an end. Just as humanity can be categorized into consumers
and producers, into reactors and perceivers, so can people be
divided by the sword of fear. The sweat of the frightened is the
profit of the feared.
There is no conveniently demonized “other” in this
film. There is only humanity’s reflection in the mirror.
Evil does not appear in any foreign or alien form (unless you
see Germans that way). As the story unfolds, we find that the
crimes of “Dr. Mabuse” are not limited to his direct
actions. All of Mabuse’s crimes in this film are carried
out by others acting upon his will. “Mabuse,” is,
then, not a man. He is the will to power, within all humans, that
is often indifferent toward the lives of others. He is the name
for self-interest, rationalized madness, and corruption. After
a thousand utopian ideals are conceived, this immortal “evil”
shall remain as integral as ever in the nature of man.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was the first of
many films banned by Joseph Goebbels. He feared it would sow seeds
of distrust toward the state among citizens of the Third Reich.
Despite the Minister of Propaganda’s opposition to the film’s
dreadfully thought-provoking impact, he must have felt a personal
resonance with its ideas, for he kept an uncensored copy of it
in his personal collection, and gave private screenings to his
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was released on DVD
by Criterion Collection in year 39 A.S. Released in past decades
as The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse, Criterion’s
version comes closest to Lang’s original vision than any
hitherto release in America. It falls only three minutes shorter
than the first print (the remaining footage has been lost). It
is a high-definition digital transfer, with restored image and
sound. And it is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.19:1,
for the first time in America. Also, fans of this film who wish
to learn more about the history of the character of Dr. Mabuse
are encouraged to find a copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse
by David Kalat.
[- Miles Jacobsen]