The more I see of Fritz Lang's films, the more and more he grows in esteem for me. This film is no exception. While a sequel to the two-part 1922 film 'Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler,' it could also be fully enjoyed and understood by one who has never seen the prior film (of quite massive length!), since apart from the recurring title character, it's entirely its own story, with an entirely new set of characters and an entirely new plot. It's not one of those sequels that's a continuation of the events and characters established in the first enstallment, even though it is nice to see the 1922 two-parter first, to have some background information on just who Mabuse is and the kind of trouble he's about to start unleashing again, not to mention just why he's ended up in a mental institution.
This is one of those films that just gets better and better with each repeated viewing, particularly since it seems to start in media res. One comes to have more and more of a full and complete understanding of who all of these characters are, why they're behaving this way, and just what is going on in the opening scenes, as well as some of the ensuing scenes that make more sense after having already seen the film a few times. And the film just gets better and better and faster-paced as it goes on. The basic plot, which has already been outlined by other reviewers, is that Dr. Mabuse, after having spent the past decade in a mental institution, has recently begun unleashing his dangerous plans for world domination, sabotage, and an empire of crime, but no one can figure out just what's going on, particularly since Mabuse dies rather early in the film. Even the criminals he's gotten to do his bidding don't really know just who the man behind the curtain is. And the one man who does know his name and what's going on, the disgraced former up-and-coming cop Hofmeister, is sent away to the same asylum himself and driven insane so that he won't be able to tell anyone, least of all his friend Lohmann, the police inspector. This is a classic crime thriller all of the way through, leaving the viewer constantly wondering what's going to happen next, just who is behind all of this criminal mayhem if Mabuse is dead, and if Lohmann can put an end to this reign of terror before it's too late.
The extras include a gallery of stills and memorabilia, production drawings, a 1964 interview with Fritz Lang (in which he's perpetuating some famous urban legends about himself, such as leaving Germany in the middle of the night with barely any money and never returning until just recently!), a short documentary on the life of Norbert Jacques, the novelist who created the Mabuse character, a 1984 interview with Rudolf Schündler (who plays Hardy), a comparison of key scenes in the original 1933 German version of the film, the somewhat altered French version released that same year, and the dubbed and rather edited American version released in 1952, an audio commentary, and the French-language version. Both the audio commentary and the comparison of the three versions are done by David Kalat, who did the *amazing* audio commentary for 'Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler,' which was hands-down one of the best audio commentaries I've heard to date. His insights and information were just as wonderful in these two commentaries.
The French-language version comes from a print in less than pristine condition, although given how few copies of this cut are known to survive and that none of them are in great condition, it's just petty and oblivioius to be criticising it for that. This version in particular actually has 3 languages on it--the spoken French, the original Dutch subtitles, and the modern English subtitles in black boxes over the Dutch subtitles (which a number of times are clearly visible anyway). Although the editing on this one isn't as severe as on the 1952 American release, it does change some of the dialogue and axes away the Kent-Lilli subplot to almost nothing, so that the viewer who hasn't already seen the German original wouldn't really understand just what's going on between these two or what Kent's backstory is, just why he's trying to get away from Mabuse's clutches and doesn't want to be involved in crime anymore. The actors used in this version are also inferior to the ones in the original; the only repeat actors are Karl Meixner as Hofmeister (since he was bilingual and therefore able to act in French as well as in German) and of course Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Mabuse. Klein-Rogge's scant lines had to be dubbed, since he didn't speak French. The only actor who didn't seem like a pale imitation of the original was Thomy Bourdelle as Dr. Baum (he even looked like the original Dr. Baum). They were just fleshed-out so much better in the original, with more depth and personality, as opposed to the kind of buffoonish one-dimensional characters they're presented as here. I also thought the original Kent and Lilli were a much more handsome couple than the French Kent and Lilli. It's hard to believe that this was common practice in the early sound era and less expensive than dubbing or subtitling, actually reshooting the entire film with an entirely new cast or, sometimes, making the original cast memorise their lines phoenetically in another language like French or Spanish, in order to have a bigger market.
Lang did so much incredible work, both in the silent and sound era, and both in German and American cinema, that it's hard to narrow down his greatest and most-recommendable films apart from his masterpiece 'Metropolis.' This film, however, easily belongs in a Top 10 list of his best films, one that might inspire a casual viewer to become a big fan or to want to see much more.