Eyes On: Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) (1960)
Dr. Mabuse is dead! Long live Dr. Mabuse! This was the theme of Fritz Lang’s final entry of his ‘Mabuse trilogy’, as well as being his final film as a director. In the best Mabuse tradition, it has something for everyone: women driven to madness and suicide, people who are NOT what they seem, masters of disguise and ingenious methods of death and destruction. The film begins with such a death, that of investigative TV reporter Peter Barter, by a high-pressure needle gun to the brain (in a drive-by shooting that is almost a scene-for-scene copy of a similar execution in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse). Sharp-eyed viewers and students of world cinema will recognize Jess Franco’s favorite go-to villain Howard Vernon as the assassin ‘No. 12’.
Barter’s murder is just the latest in a long line of puzzling homicides for Police Commissioner Kras (Gert Frobe, of GOLDFINGER fame). With no clues to go on, he reluctantly turns to celebrated blind psychic Peter Cornelius for help. The Commissioner and Kras have a history together, so much so that the psychic’s German Shepherd knows him by smell as an old acquaintance. As psychics go, Cornelius is an exercise in frustration. He can warn Kras of crimes that are going to happen, but never with specifics, such as who the victim or killer are. His next warning to the Commissioner concerns the Hotel Luxor in Berlin, which already has a reputation for more than average sordid happenings.
At the hotel, a suicidal woman about to jump off a ledge. She is Marion Menil (Dawn Addams), long-suffering spouse to an abusive, club-footed husband. After her latest ordeal she decides to end it all, but is talked down and into the room of American millionaire industrialist Henry Travers (Peter van Eyck). He is entranced by her beauty and is determined to help her – she at first refuses, not wanting to draw him into her troubles, but eventually gives in out of hopelessness and exhaustion and with nowhere else to turn. Dr. Jordan (Wolfgang Preiss), her psychiatrist, is called after Marion’s suicide attempt, and confers with Travers about Marion’s past and her situation. Travers promises the doctor (and the police) he will take responsibility for her, and slowly the two begin to fall in love.
More characters are introduced: the seedy insurance agent Hieronymus B. Mistelzweig (Werner Peters), who runs his business out of the hotel (when he’s not cadging free drinks) and has a finger in everyone’s business; the hotel director and house detective, who seem to know far TOO much about all of their guests, and others. The paths of Cornelius and Travers intersect, with the psychic telling the industrialist that a business deal he is waiting to hear about will not go through. As predicted, the Taran Nuclear Works plant deal falls through and Travers becomes more curious about Cornelius.
Back at the hotel, we finally see the ‘Thousand Eyes’ of the title of the film. It turns out that during World War II, the Nazis had installed secret cameras and microphones in all the rooms, with a massive spy control center in a concrete bunker in the basement. All the better for blackmailing, intimidation and the learning of state secrets. However, they did not stop there – Travers is shown into the room next to Marion’s by the hotel manager, who promises him “something interesting”. That something turns out to be a one-way mirror built into her room so he can spy on everything going on there. While he is offended by the man’s salaciousness, he rents the room out so no one else can spy on her. Timing is all, as he observes Marion and her husband, who forces his way into the room and begins attacking her again. Trying to defend herself, she falls back and is about to be mortally hurt by the man when Travers breaks the mirror out and shoots the husband dead. Like it or not, he is now involved up to his neck.
Marion tells him she can take care of the body and calls Dr. Jordan, who arrives in record time, agreeing to write a death certificate for a heart attack and has the body taken out discreetly via the freight elevator to his waiting ambulance. As it pulls away, the ‘dead’ husband pulls the sheet off, pleased with “Mabuse’s” plan to capture his ‘death’ on film for blackmailing Travers. Not as pleased as No. 12 and his needle gun, who tell him his usefulness is up and shoots him. They dump the body and disappear.
Kras, Travers, Marion and Mistelzweig are all invited to a seance’ given by Cornelius. Before it can get underway, however, Cornelius asks to change seats with the Commissioner. As he does, Kras settles in only to be told by Cornelius to get down – an assassin’s bullet strikes the seat where Kras’ head had been moments before! Kras and his assistant try to capture the gunman without success, and the seance is called off. Mistelzweig stays behind, trying to interest Cornelius in becoming his business partner in the insurance racket, but is turned down. He tricks Cornelius into giving away the fact he’s not REALLY blind, but has been wearing white contacts the entire time – he’s willing to keep the secret, saying it’s a nice touch, and advises him to re-think joining him.
The film ramps up to it’s whirlwind conclusion back at the hotel when Travers figures out Marion isn’t what she claims to be and was in on the blackmail attempt – she swears to tell him all, but only when they’re outside. Her panic starts to get to him as well, and they take an elevator to the lobby. Instead of the lobby door opening, however, a SIDE door opens, revealing the spy center. The manager and hotel detective both work for “Mabuse”, and when questioned by Travers who he is, they tell him he’ll meet the good Doctor soon enough … and then he and the girl will die. Travers tries to shoot it out and escape, but Marion is wounded in the process and they are both locked in the camera center.
Out in the lobby, Mistelzweig sees the elevator come down but the door never open. He also sees Dr. Jordan ENTER the same elevator, without it ascending. He nods, putting it all together. In the control center, Dr. Jordan reveals Marion was under his hypnosis, working to make Travers love her. She would marry Travers and he would have been killed, with Marion inheriting all his assets, including the Atomic Plant where Jordan would have made and deployed nuclear missiles. “You are insane”, says Travers. “Maybe … that’s what they said about Dr. Mabuse … who died 25 years ago and whose name and plans I used.” Leaving Travers and Marion to die in the soundproof room, Dr. Jordan takes off his goatee and hairpiece to walk past Kras and the police in the lobby. Mistelzweig (who, it turns out, is secretly an Interpol agent) has a surprise of his own for Jordan … the German Shepherd! Turns out Dr. Jordan was ALSO the fake psychic Cornelius and is given away by the dog.
Thanks to No. 12 and his machine gun, Jordan/Mabuse gets away in a sedan for the final car chase, with Kras and four motorcycle cops in pursuit. Mistelzweig goes into the control center and cleans up the henchmen there, freeing Travers and Marion. Jordan/Mabuse are cut off on a bridge by the police and plunge to their death over the edge. The final shot is a kiss between Travers and Marion (in a hospital bed), whereupon her head lolls gently over. A quick pan to their clasped hands makes you wonder – is she unconscious? Dead? That is for you to decide.
All Day Entertainment did a marvelous job restoring the film on DVD, and includes both the original German and (horrible) English dubbed soundtrack. The extras include another informative audio commentary with David Kalat, poster and ad art from the Mabuse films, trailers from other entries in the series (most of them hopelessly inept and renamed) and a 35-minute documentary featurette called “The Eyes of Fritz Lang”.
As I mentioned earlier, this would be director Fritz Lang’s last shot at a Mabuse film, and his last directorial effort period. The title makes this even more ir0nic, when you consider Lang had to give up directing due to his failing eyesight (and advanced age). The film was very well received at the time of it’s release, leading to a mini-Mabuse marathon, with a series of lesser films over the next few years by different directors. The Mabuse Cycle, with their dreams of world conquest and advanced weaponry, were the prototype for the James Bond series that would begin two years later with 1962’s DR. NO. Not a bad legacy, after all. When you see the newest chiseled actor playing 007, you can admire his stunts and coolness in the theater … but when you see the latest megalomaniac he’s up against, remember to give a small salute in the dark to the latest child of Dr. Mabuse.
Walter von Bosau, Krasker Film/Video Services