Part of Eureka's ever-impressive "Masters Of Cinema" line, this four-disc boxset presents all three films based on the infamous criminal mastermind concocted by German novelist and screenwriter Norbert Jacques: Dr Mabuse (pronounced Maboozuh).

Of course, the reason these films are so special and the reason they have caught the attention of the esteemed MoC series, is because they are brilliantly directed by one of cinema's greatest ever filmmakers, Fritz Lang (M; METROPOLIS).

Discs one and two of this sterling set are dedicated to the epic (270 minutes!) DR MABUSE DER SPIELER. Based on Jacques' 1922 novel that introduced the world to this diabolical character, the film was lensed in the same year and boasted the same title - which translates in English as DR MABUSE THE GAMBLER.

The film, released in two parts and presented as such here, was to become Lang's first big hit. In it, Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is leader of a troupe of criminals who get inside information on stock exchange sales and profit from conning this audience accordingly. In a weird move, which may be either a visual gag or something more symbolic that I've missed out on, some of the victims of this scam appear to be blind ...

This is not enough for Mabuse, and he sets his sights on wiping out the fortune of suave millionaire Edgar (Paul Richter). Donning another of his many crap disguises, Mabuse gets close to Edgar's acquaintance, club entertainer Cara (Aud Egede Nissen). He learns enough about Edgar to muscle his way into his social circle - another iffy masquerade is required, naturally - and takes him to the cleaners in a none-too-legit game of cards.

This attracts the attentions of hard-boiled cop Von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke), who vows to bring Mabuse's con syndicate to a halt ...

Although lengthy and split into serial-type bites, DR MABUSE DER SPIELER is a wonderfully addictive viewing experience. It's easy to get into the fast-moving story, the characters are all enjoyably two-dimensional and broad - in a good sense - and the plot grows increasingly contrived but never difficult to follow.

Klein-Rogge is always watchable as Mabuse, and ironically winds up being something of an alluring anti-hero. Shite disguises notwithstanding, it's impossible not to root for such a dastardly but charismatic lead.

Episodic and undeniably long, SPIELER is nevertheless a supremely stylish and ambitious piece of silent cinema that feels surprisingly contemporary in it's noirish look and occasionally downbeat situations. More impressively, it is graced with an unflagging energy and some wonderfully expressionistic performances.

Disc three presents 1933's DAS TESTAMENT DES DR MABUSE (THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE). Lang had made several films in-between SPIELER and this one - including METROPOLIS and M - and it certainly shows. As fun as SPIELER is, TESTAMENT is a knockout.

Klein-Logge returns to the role of Mabuse here and, under the pen of Lang, plays the criminal as having suffered years of mental torture in an asylum. Which would apparently make him quite harmless - only Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) seems to think differently.

After his sleazy informant is killed in cold blood after giving a tip-off about a huge criminal conspiracy, Lohmann takes to Berlin's dingy evening streets for clues and happens upon the name "Mabuse" scrawled onto a windowpane at the scene of the crime.

Lohmann visits Mabuse at the asylum and discovers the enigmatic nutter is under the guard of the mysterious Dr Baum (Oscar Beregi). It transpires that Mabuse has been keeping himself busy in his cell by compiling comprehensive notes based on recent crimes. It's striking how accurate the notes are, but then the real curveball comes ... Mabuse dies!

The crimes continue, and anyone who even dares to suggest forwarding Mabuse's notes - his last testament, if you will - to the cops is swiftly bumped off. Can Lohmann get to the bottom of this criminal conundrum?

Tighter, more visually dazzling and definitely darker than it's predecessor, TESTAMENT is an unexpectedly modern-feeling thriller with solid performances, keen use of audio (unlike SPIELER this film has dialogue, but utilises some canny sound effects also to hammer it's atmosphere home) and a plot that borders on possessing supernatural leanings.

At times almost documentary-like, this is Lang at his best and ranks alongside M as his greatest achievement. A wonderful slice of noir Hell, the film is also savvy enough to provide pure entertainment value at all corners: it works, as does SPIELER, as a possible blueprint for the dastardly villains that have given James Bond so much chew over the last five decades.

Disc four is home to the final Mabuse film, and indeed the last film Lang directed before his death in 1976. The film in question is 1960's DIE 1000 AUGEN DES DR MABUSE (THE 1000 EYES OF DR MABUSE).

By the time EYES was made, Lang was knocking on and losing his eyesight (a cruel irony given the comment above about the opening con in SPIELER). But the film lacks no punch as a result.

This one feels Hitchcockian at times, but retains Lang's indelible stamp throughout.

It starts with an execution, and then American Henry (Peter van Eyck) - in Germany to seal a business deal - notices pretty Marion (Dawn Addams) about to throw herself off a building. He talks her down, and inadvertently lands himself smack-bang in the centre of a convoluted plot concerning blackmail and international crime.

Fortunately, hard-nosed and intelligent cop Kras (Gert Frobe) is on the scene, trying - along with the audience - to decipher how all of the seemingly loose ends and plot contrivances come together.

And they do, satisfyingly, in this wonderful whodunit that - yes, indeed - reintroduces Mabuse into the frame (but played by a different actor on this occasion; one who I can't disclose, as that would constitute a major spoiler ...).

Smart, brisk and once again very modern in approach and feel, EYES is a marvellous film that challenges the viewer as much as it rewards them.

Each of the films on offer are wonderfully entertaining, startlingly prescient affairs in terms of what was to come in the crime genre. They also each benefit hugely from staggering monochrome photography and keen pacing that make them impossible not to enjoy. While EYES may suffer from not having Klein-Logge as Mabuse (understandable, as he died in 1955), it is at least in keeping visually and tonally with it's predecessors and arguably the most currently "hip" of all three.

In short, these films continue to hold relevance in today's cinema and deserve to be treasured for that reason alone. The fact that they're fun, and highlight the genius of Fritz Lang beyond the obvious classics of M and METROPOLIS, makes them all the more essential.

The first two films look great in full-frame transfers. Looking to be accurately framed, they exude strong contrast of blacks and white with solid control during dark scenes and nicely restrained presentation of the daytime scenes. Grain is minimal and the pictures are surprisingly sharp considering their age.

EYES is presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 and looks great too, especially upscaled. Some scenes exhibit an undeniable softness but overall, considering the film is 50 years old, it's weathered remarkably well.

Each film is presented in original mono audio (German dialogue for the later two "talkies"), all of which are very clean propositions. EYES also features an inferior English audio track. Optional English subtitles are provided across all three films, offering easily-readable and typo-free text.

Static main menu pages on each disc lead into similarly static scene-selection menus. Disc one has 22 chapters; disc two has 16 chapters; disc three (TESTAMENT) has 20 chapters; disc four (EYES) has 14 chapters.

Extras begin with some admirably fluent commentary tracks, provided for each film by Mabuse expert David Kalat. Kalat offers an amazing amount of contextual information surrounding both the making of these films and the climate they were made under (it's interesting to compare the story of a criminal mastermind's reign of terror over Germany with what was unfolding there at the time), and maintains a commendable level of relaxed enthusiasm throughout.

Although perhaps lacking in humour, it would be churlish not to credit these commentary tracks as being incredibly well-informed and eminently easy to get along with.

Disc two provides three welcome featurettes, which apparently have all been previously available (shamefully, I have to concede that this is my first exposure to Mabuse on DVD). These begin with the 13-minute "Mabuse's Music", which affords composer Aljoscha Zimmermann the opportunity to discuss the excellent score he conjured for SPIELER.

"Norbert Jacques: The Literary Inventor of Dr Mabuse" is an academic but worthwhile 10-minute retrospective on the author's work, while "Mabuse's Movies" takes 30 minutes to suss out the development of Mabuse's character over the course of 40 years - in fine fashion, I must say.

Disc four contains a one-minute alternate ending to EYES which, to me, didn't really suggest anything significantly different to what made the final cut.

There is also a decent archive video interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss from 2002, which clocks in at 15 minutes in length. Despite being aged and ill (he died 25 days later), he has a good memory and is clearly fond of the work he put in on Lang's swansong. This is presented in German with optional English subtitles.

Apparently the set also comes with booklets to accompany each film. These weren't available for review with the screener discs, but only go to demonstrate how much care and thought Eureka have put into this substantial release.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Eureka Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review