Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is a must-have for any film scholar. It is one of Lang's best works, and it's hard to understand why this film is so little-known while the flashy but leaden Metropolis is considered a classic.
Sergei Eisenstein was an admirer of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, and supposedly he obtained a copy and studied its construction. I can only assume that the picture had a influence on other filmmakers around the world; it has a much more modern feel than any film I've seen from the early 20s. The pace is quick (at least in the first part), the cross-cutting between scenes is sophisticated, there is great attention to detail in the sets, and it rarely has the "stagy" feel that many silent films suffer from. If one had to point to one element that puts it ahead of its time, it would be its overall construction--the way the various shots and scenes are put together to create the story. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler creates a sense of both time and space; many things happen simultaneously in the movie-world, and the locales we see are not two-dimensional stage sets but rather three-dimensional spaces where we peer around corners and follow the characters from one room to the next. The only silent filmmaker I can think of who lavished so much attention on creating a credible world is Erich von Stroheim, though one could argue that that filmmaker should have taken a lesson from the economy of Lang's storytelling.
In addition to its status as a landmark film, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is also truly entertaining, particularly the first part. There are car and train chases, riotous gambling dens, memorable bit characters, and some great special effects. The basic story of good versus evil is compelling. Dr. Mabuse is one of the screen's greatest villains, a shrewd megalomaniac who seems to be tormented and driven by his overpowering desires. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is truly fantastic in the part. Mabuse revels insanely at his conquests and explodes with fury when he is thwarted. However, though he is extreme, he is no cartoon supervillain or two-dimensional monster; he is a fallible character, not evil itself but rather human evil, and this is what makes him exciting.
The quality of the DVD is good to fair. I was thrilled with the clarity and felt that Image had done a superb job, but those who expect every title on DVD to be as crystal-clear as a movie that was released last year will be disappointed. This is not a perfectly restored copy; there are little imperfections in the film, from scratches to missing frames. There are even some very minor shots missing--for example, the very first shot of the seance scene shows the circle of hands from above, and this is missing from the DVD version. However, this is the most extreme case that I noted. In all cases the missing scraps do not affect the film as a whole; it is just that there are moments where you might think that Lang had a poor sense of continuity (and this is not the case!). Another oddity about the copy is that at least one of the shots differs slightly from that on a copy I have on videotape. There is a scene on the DVD where von Wenk is speaking to Carozza in the prison, and the shot shows all of the two characters. On the videotape I have, the shot is a close-up from a slightly different angle. I have had the same experience with another film, The Last Laugh. On two different videotapes the same shot differs slightly.
All this being said, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this DVD. One must take into account that the film is from 1922 and is not very well-known. It is not a beloved classic that someone is going to lavish a small fortune into restoring to perfection. Note too that this is a movie that was not previously available on any format, period. There was one mail-order company that offered a home-made version on video, but the quality was poor at best and unwatchable at worst. It was like trying to watch the movie through a bowl of soup.
Of particular note is that on the new DVD the film image has been shrunk so that it does not fill all of the available space of the television. This is because the aspect ratio of silent films was more square than the familiar 1:33 to 1 of the television set; sometimes leading to the tops of heads being cropped out when silents are transferred to video. This problem is solved on the DVD of Mabuse. And, of course, the DVD shows the movie at the correct speed. I totally disagree with the reviewer who said that it seemed speeded-up. Some of the chase scenes seem a little faster than normal speed, but I think that this was a device of Lang's rather than an imperfection of the DVD. There is also a commentary by a Mabuse scholar which, judging from the little I heard, is very well-informed.
As a side note, Fritz Lang's sequel to Mabuse, 1933's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (the original German version is available only on video), is also very entertaining, and it features Lohmann, the detective from M! However, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse from the sixties (Lang's last film, I believe) is unfortunately quite forgettable and I cannot recommend it.