26 December, 2021

LA VENGANZA DEL DR. MABUSE (Jess Frank, 1971) Franco index --------------------------------------------------------------------

 (a.k.a.  DR. M SCHLAGT ZU; DER MANN DER SICH MABUSE NANNTE; DER DOKTOR MABUSE; EL DOCTOR MABUSE)  In a remote lighthouse laboratory, criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse conducts mind control experiments on women who are kidnapped by his assistants. Mabuse uses a mineral from stolen moon rocks (!) to create a ray that turns people into obedient zombies. A stripper, a witness to one of the abductions, in turn becomes the next victim. Under Mabuse's telepathic guidance, she seduces an American diplomat. These rapidly escalating events are investigated by Thomas (Fred Williams), the local Sheriff, who finally manages to locate the hideout. Mabuse is killed during a melee involving his brain damaged henchman as the lab explodes. 


This obscure feature represents the last gasp of the long-lived Dr. Mabuse franchise (albeit there was also Claude Chabrol's 1990 DR. M), which had seen better days in the Fritz Lang thrillers of the 1920s and 30s. Lang's final film, DIE TAUSEND AUGEN DER DR. MABUSE (1960), revived Mabuse as a nuclear age fanatic hiding out in a Berlin hotel outfitted with hidden television cameras, predicting surveillance culture along the way. That iconic film was followed by several Artur Brauner produced follow ups, such as DR. MABUSE VS SCOTLAND YARD (1963), which saw the series winding down amidst the competition of West German produced Krimis. Franco's 1971 movie has a very rushed look, For instance, one scene is partially obscured by a section of the lens-cap which appears not to have been properly removed by the camera team. Also, when the cops finally arrive at Dr. Mabuse's hideout, the shadow of Manuel Merino's camera falls over the arriving police car. Franco didn't have the time or budget to do any Hollywood style "coverage" and didn't bother correcting such technical gaffes as out of focus shots. 

A diplomat (Angel Menendez) falls under the mental control of Dr. Mabuse and his cohorts.

Some amusing touches include Mabuse's hulking henchman, Andros (Moises Rocha), with his sewn-up skull cap, looking like a refugee from a Hammer horror entry. The Red Garter "nightclub," which looks like a parking garage with a few battered chairs and tables placed inside, is the setting for Ewa Stroemberg's minimalist striptease. As usual in Jess Franco films,  WTF moments abound. The office of Sheriff Thomas looks like a leftover from some spaghetti western, and Williams appears throughout the film in a cowboy costume.  Despite these technical jaw droppers -- and that the always suave looking Jack Taylor is somewhat miscast as Mabuse -- the action is punctuated by a decent jazz music score, as well as some impressive color-gel photography. It basically looks like a color photo-novel one might read while listening to jazz on a Sunday afternoon.


            Jess Franco and Spanish horror regular Jack Taylor is Professor Frakas/Doctor Mabuse....

Most interesting are some extremely wide-angle compositions in Mabuse's lab and during the abduction scenes, which distort spatial relationships and employ lighting and color in a way which anticipate the look of Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which was released at the end of 1971. But there's little chance Kubrick saw or was inflected by Franco's micro-budgeted thriller. The difference being that Kubrick's film grossed 100 million plus while Franco's cut-rate epic wasn't even adequately promoted by its producers. The German language version of this has additional scenes during the lab robbery sequence which don't appear to have been directed by Franco but may have been added to extend the runtime. The overall irony is that by the 1970s Mabuse seemed a lot less of a threat to world peace than the very real terrorists who were making the headlines in Europe and the Middle East.

Like Orson Welles before him, Jess Franco favored the wide angle lens which imposed a broader view from fixed perspectives. 

The Spanish language LA VENGANZA DEL DR. MABUSE might be the definitive "Director's Cut" of this obscure film. The German version used for this review was released by the German CCC company.

(C) 2022 Robert Monell

 Robert Monell