The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse

The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse (1960)
All Day Entertainment
Cast: Gert Fröbe, Peter Van Eyck, Wolfgang Preiss, Dawn Addams
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Photo Gallery, Trailer

While movies themselves are usually released as a constant flow throughout the years, genres typically move in waves. What is hip today is gone tomorrow and replaced by another "fad" the industry is following. The current wave of horror films that has been spawned by the overnight success of "Scream" a few years ago is just one example of these developments and it will die quietly just as it did during the 80s when the market just wouldn’t tolerate any more uninspired rip-off of a few good films that inspired the genre. While one may think it this behavior is limited to the US market, it is actually happening all over the world, in all markets. By the late 1950s a series of Germany-produced thrillers with obvious horror elements appeared on the scene, based on the novels of British writer Edgar Wallace. Carving out the genre of the "Gruselkrimi (Spooky thriller)" for themselves, these films were highly successful and critically acclaimed and spawned a period of dark thrillers in German cinema that would not end until 10 years later. During this period, the once-influential filmmaker Fritz Lang decided to dig up ideas for a series of movies that he had not re-visited since 1933 when he first created them.

In "The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse" Inspector Kras (Gert "Goldfinger" Fröbe) is having a problem. A number of bodies turn up in his district of Berlin and no killer or clues are anywhere in sight. Desperately he tries to figure out what connects these cases and he turns to Cornelius (Wolfgang Preiss) a blind psychic who appears to be able to predict future events. He finds out that all the victims were frequenting the Hotel Luxor shortly before their demise and Kras decides to take a look around the hotel.

As he does so, he makes the acquaintances of a number of rather odd and suspicious characters, like Hieronymus Mistelzweig (Werner Peters) or Marion Medil (Dawn Addams) and the man who courts her, the rich American Henry Travers.( Peter Van Eyck). Slowly Inspector Kras tries to make a picture of the events for himself when suddenly he becomes the target for attempted assassinations. He feels that he is closing in one the secret.

Revolving around the criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse, the themes of these stories perfectly matched the noir feel of the thriller wave at the time and Lang successfully began re-exploring his earlier films, adapting his style to the change of the times. In 1960 he finished "The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse" and the film quickly found its audience, even among the flood of competing films. Although he had exchanged his expressionistic visual style for a more accessible look in this movie, it is nonetheless obvious that a very visual filmmaker had been in charge of the production with its eloquent use of the camera, the practical use of shadows and light and his use of cigarette smoke to create ambient movement in scenes that were otherwise absolutely static in nature. Sadly, the film was his last one – a result of his increasing blindness and his growing frustration with the film industry, especially after his earlier failures in Hollywood. Nonetheless, the film itself was the first in a series of films that would follow, including a remake of Lang’s 1933 film "The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse." These films became increasingly unimaginative and none of the sequels managed to capture the suspense of Lang’s early originals, or this 1960 film.

All Day Entertainment is presenting the movie in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer on this DVD that restores the movie’s original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Although the transfer is quite good looking, a large number of blemishes are visible in the film print. Mostly limited to speckles and scratch marks, these defects are never really distracting but a clean-up pass to have the most evident marks removed would have been a nice touch. Nonetheless, the film presents itself in a surprisingly good-looking presentation with deep blacks and good highlights. The contrast of the image is very good throughout and there are no density problems that are oftentimes evident in films of such age. The image also shows no notable signs of grain, which seems to have been achieved through careful use of digital noise reduction.

Most notable above all is the incredible level of detail in the transfer however, which is also a result of the meticulously done compression of the material for this DVD. There is not a hint of a compression artifact. No <$pixelation,pixelation> or break-up is evident anywhere and the level of detail is incredible. Especially in the dark scenes – occasionally Lang reverted to his very shadowy expressionistic look – you will notice that every bit of detail is fully intact. I have seen this film many times before, but I have never seen it in such clarity.

The disc contains the movie’s original monaural German audio track as well as an English dub. The disc defaults to the English dub which I found an odd choice, as fans of this film are most certainly purists who prefer to see the film in its original language in a subtitles version. The audio is also surprisingly well reproduced. The noise floor of the audio is very low, without notable hiss or noise. Yet, at the same time the track has not lost any of its clarity and presence, which is often the case with noise reduction. This is a great and clean version of the audio, although occasional blips – which sound a lot like sample drop-outs during the transfer of the track rather than defects in the source – are audible in the track. Given the age of the film, the audio tracks have a rather narrow frequency response and as a result a somewhat harsh sounding quality. Nonetheless, there is no sibilance or distortion in the audio, making this presentation significantly better than I could have hoped for, for such an obscure movie.

The disc also contains an audio <$commentary,commentary track> by film historian David Kalat. The commentary feels a lot like the commentaries found on Universal’s classic monster movies, as it is an rather in-depth analysis and interpretation of the film, combined with a lot of history and background about Fritz Lang’s career in general. It is an interesting and engaging <$commentary,commentary track> and Kalat’s ability to drift away from his scripted notes to comment on the action on screen ad hoc, creates a commentary that has a nice flow without gaps or holes.

A 35-minute documentary about Fritz Lang is also on the disc, which gives viewers an idea about this celebrated filmmakers’ approach, techniques and ideals. While not truly exhaustive and without actual footage and evidence to show many of his most cinematic and important moments – no doubt due to licensing issues – the documentary becomes a second-hand recollection that is entertaining, but unfortunately never really manages to make tangible what made Lang or his films so very special. A still gallery and a selection of trailers can also be found on the disc to round off this great release.

It is evident from this release that All Day Entertainment had a lot of commitment to make sure Fritz Lang’s last film gets the respect it deserves. With a beautiful transfer, a very good audio presentation and informative extras, this disc celebrates one of Lang’s most commercial films. For fans of classic thrillers, and especially for fans of the German horror thrillers of the 60s, this disc is a must-own.