Norbert Jacques’s criminal mastermind was immortalized in three classic Fritz Lang films made between 1922 and 1960. As in the original bestselling novel, the title character in Lang’s epic 5-hour silent film, Dr. Mabuse der Spieler, served as the incarnation of post-war German decadence.
A decade later, Lang returned to the character in the classic The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, imbuing the character with an occult influence as Dr. Baum becomes obsessed with the institutionalized Mabuse to the point where he believes he is possessed by his recently-deceased patient’s spirit. Fleeing Germany shortly after the film’s completion, the Jewish Lang proudly noted that in this film, Mabuse served as a critique of the Nazi Party that had recently risen to prominence.
At the end of his career, Lang returned to the character for The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, but the mesmerizing criminal genius was now awash with Cold War paranoia amidst a tale that painted the inexplicably reborn Mabuse as the personification of the Big Brother-style East German communist government forever spying on the people it seeks to control.
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Like Fantomas before him, Dr. Mabuse is criminally unknown in the United States. The master villain was introduced in Norbert Jacques’ 1922 novel, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (also published as Dr. Mabuse, Master of Mystery). Jacques was a French journalist who had immigrated to Germany and wrote the novel as a scathing indictment of the corruption prevalent in the waning days of the Weimar Republic.
Dr. Mabuse is a practicing psychiatrist. He is also an avid occultist who conducts séances and practices Mesmerism. A master of disguise, Mabuse is also the head of a vast criminal empire controlling gambling, drugs, and prostitution throughout the Berlin underworld. Mabuse maintains a stranglehold on both the criminal lower class and the degenerate upper class through their addictions to vice and their reliance upon the occult and psychiatry to direct their lives.
The novel captures much of the corruption and anti-Semitism that were leading Germany on a downward spiral toward Nazism. Mabuse’s surprising ambition is to transform his empire of crime and deception into a utopian dream of a socialist paradise. Jacques saw socialism, the influence of modern psychiatry, and the growing interest in the occult as being as much a threat to Germany as the vice dens that kept the lower classes from rising above their station while simultaneously pulling the upper classes down.
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