At the end of the film, the doctor is captured. Driven mad from visions of the ghosts of his victims, he is taken to an asylum.
Although parallels between Caligari, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and the true psyche of 1920’s Germany is debated, the relation between Fritz Lang’s sequel and German politics is undeniable.
During the ten years after Gambler, Germany descended into political chaos. The country’s electoral system forced its centrist parties to negotiate with extremists on both the left and the right, who roamed the streets murdering opponents and – in the case of the Nazis – terrorizing as many Jews as possible. The Nazis won a plurality of seats in July 1932, just before Lang started filming The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.
When Testament opens, Dr. Mabuse is locked away in his cell, scribbling furiously. Hospital director Dr. Baum collects the notes, which give instructions on how to commit various crimes. Baum praises Mabuse’s genius mind to a class of students, unmistakably mimicking Nazi gestures.
Inspector Lohmann discovers that a secret gang of criminals is replicating Mabuse’s instructions to the letter. The gang is organized in a manner similar to the Nazi Party was. Some gang members wonder about their boss’s plans. Their crimes aren’t making any money. Instead, they seem designed to create fear and chaos. (Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knightwas inspired by Dr. Mabuse.)
After the war, Lang stated that he made Testament as an anti-Nazi allegory.
“Thus I hoped to expose the masked Nazi theory of the necessity to deliberately destroy everything which is precious to people. Then, when everything collapsed and they were thrown into utter despair, they would try to find help in the “new order.””
Although Lang probably exaggerated some of his anti-Nazi activities, (such as his stories of a midnight train ride out of Germany after Goebbels offered to put him in charge of the Nazi film program) critic Michael Walker examined the evidence in a 2011 journal article and found Lang’s claims about Testament credible.
Walker lists many parallels, so I’ll focus only on my favorite. One of the most visually arresting scenes of Testament exposes the Mabuse propaganda machine. When gang members are to receive instruction, they enter a room with a drawn curtain. Behind the curtain is the shadow of “the boss,” who issues orders. They never see the man behind the curtain.
One of the gang members and his girlfriend take a peek. They see a cardboard cutout and a speaker.
Testament was scheduled for release on March 23, 1933 – the day newly-appointed Chancellor Hitler asked the Reichstag to vote him emergency powers in the Enabling Act. Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Goebbels first delayed, then canceled Testament’s premiere, as a threat to public health and safety.
I'm a journalist and film enthusiast who lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. I've been writing about movies for 15 years and I hosted a weekly movie review television show on UATV for two years.