30 January, 2007

Searching for DR. MABUSE....

"I want action!" Jess Franco in DR M SCHLAGT ZU

Just as THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1968) was pretty much the final cinema destination for the famous Sax Rohmer character and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA represents the beginning of the death throes of the Edgar Wallace franchaise, Jess Franco's LA VENGANZA DEL DR MABUSE (1970) finishes off the grand cycle featuring the evil genius first visualized by Fritz Lang some 50 years earlier with the crime epic DR MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (1922). Without going into the details of Lang's followup THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE (1932), his trouble with the Nazis, subsequent Hollywood career, THE 1000 EYES OF DR MABUSE and the 1960s series of W. German/CCC produced follow ups, it's not surprising that Franco's Mabuse is cast against type with Jack Taylor in the title role and a look which evokes a color version of Godard's ALPHAVILLE or 1971's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Franco's use of extreme wide angle lenses, color filters, outre costuming, minimalist settings, juvenile humor is more like a cheap comic book than any of the earlier Mabuse films. Jess Franco may take Lang's classic versions seriously but he never attempts to compete with them and he would have been foolish to do so.

As someone who has often noted his admiration for Lang's early German Expressionist work it's no coincidence that Franco's first horror film [GRITOS EN LA NOCHE/THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF (1961)] visually evokes environment of the silent Mabuse epics and that the plot of GRITOS... is recycled in LA VENGANZA. Franco is not really that interested in the story or characters or structure as much as delivering an exercise in pure style, mise en scene is everything here. It looks more toward the technological and cinema evolutions of the 21st than 20th Century. As usual, Franco was ahead of the times. Leaving aside short subjects and Claude Chabrol's DR M, it was to be the last of the 10 films which featured the name Dr Mabuse in the title. By trying to squeeze every last dime out of his property the wily, cutrate producer Artur Brauner killed off the mad doctor as a revenue generator for the rest of the century.

Franco scored the film with an array of hot Jazz, Big Band, Swing, and experimental cues composed by himself. These upbeat cues carry the obviously hastily filmed "action" and the music is one of the more interesting elements of the film, perhaps the most interesting element. Franco has always said that he considers himself a musician who makes films and his score here is a series of exhuberant, frenetic riffs, as is the film itself. Franco's approach to sci-fi versimultitude is not unlike the mid 1960s Grade Z cinema of Larry Buchanan or Roger Corman's delightful 1950s drive in quickies like WAR OF THE SATELLITES. A very short step above PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE with production goofs and blown takes left in the final cut.

We'll come back to LA VENGANZA DEL DR MABUSE and Franco's score in future blogs. In the meantime, I'm searching for the reportedly longer German language version [DR M SCHLAGT ZU] which is variously listed as 88 to 100m, considerably longer than my 71 minute Spanish language video, which is a bootleg dupe with poor picture quality. If anyone has access to this or wants to write a review here please contact me at the email on the banner above and we'll work something out concerning a future review blog and a DVD trade for a DVD R.

Note that RETROMEDIA will is releasing a set of early 1960s Artur Brauner produced Dr Mabuse films: THE RETURN OF DR MABUSE (1961), THE INVISIBLE DR MABUSE (1962) and THE DEATH RAY OF DR MABUSE (1964), all worth seeing if only to compare to Franco's approach to the subject.

(c) Robert Monell, 2006

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is this a movie in the version you have, a film I could watch with my wife?