Director: Harald Reinl, Hugo Fregonese
Retromedia/Image Entertainment


Image Entertainment in conjunction with Retromedia has just released a triple feature presentation of three latter-day Doctor Mabuse films made in Germany in the 1960s. If you have been following the good Doctor’s progress on DVD you are undoubtedly aware that film scholar David Kalat has made it his quest if not his pleasure to get the word out on these films -- his detailed essays and liner notes have become a welcome addition to the scholarship of such esteemed historians as Lotte Eisner in appreciating the entire series of Doctor Mabuse films including the ones made without the directorial authority of Fritz Lang.

The three films in the package include THE RETURN OF DOCTOR MABUSE (1961), THE INVISIBLE DOCTOR MABUSE (1962) and THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OF DOCTOR MABUSE (1964). While it is a treat to at last have these films to examine and enjoy for what nostalgic merits they do possess, the bad news is the prints are lackluster (presented full frame and cropped from their original 1.66:1 aspect ratios) with inferior audio (at times out of sync English dubbing) and absolutely no extras. However the price is low enough that if you can overlook these flaws. I can perfectly understand adding them to your collection until they are brought out again with great looking transfers and perhaps a few extras as well. The English-dubbed transfers presented here reflect how they appeared years ago when on syndicated U.S. television.

I ran into Retromedia’s Fred Olen Ray just a few days before doing this review and he confided that, “There was a real risk factor in putting these films out regardless as they most likely won’t sell very well in a limited market and a couple of the prints were television prints I had in my private collection. There was never the budget to search for the German masters and release them subtitled.” Fred thought the prints were more than watchable for the price and perhaps he has a point. I enjoyed watching them for the most part and after reading about the history behind Doctor Mabuse and this failed attempt to merge the James Bond cult with Mabuse really gave some flavor to the mix.

Now on to the film’s at hand. THE RETURN OF DOCTOR MABUSE is definitely the best of the three and the most faithful to Lang himself. Director Harald Reinl creates a fast paced thriller with a twisted, complicated plot involving Chicago gangsters and Germany’s favorite blond blue eyed American actor Lex Barker as FBI agent Joe Como, who assumes the identity of a gangster to try and discover who or what is causing so many deaths. Gert Froebe plays the inspector with his usual authority and acts as a link from the previous film by Lang. This is the most violent of the three as Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss) controls an army of mind-controlled inmates who carry out his will like zombies in a serial. It takes more than one viewing to get all the plots twists. This one has a great mod soundtrack and with a brisk plot, the film is an appropriate homage to the great Lang. Daliah Lavi (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) also stars.

The second film, INVISIBLE DOCTOR MABUSE follows the previous one more or less as a sequel. Once again Lex Barker is the FBI operative Joe Como and the cameo of Doctor Mabuse goes once more to Wolfgang Preiss. Here, the mad doctor is hell bent on using a kidnapped scientist, the disfigured Prof Erasmus, to use his invisibility ray for more mayhem and that is exactly what follows for the duration. The invisibility device adds to the fun as loads of visual effects are on display and I will not spoil any of it by revealing anything here except to say the dungeon set piece is a highlight. These films take on an Edgar Wallace kind of ambience that at least for me adds to the fun in trying to figure out all the plot twists. German-born beauty Karin Dor (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) is the heroine.

The last film is also the most confusing to follow. THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OF DOCTOR MABUSE has Walter Rilla as Prof. Polland a throwback to the series before the films we just mentioned. Wolfgang Preiss is credited as Mabuse but is not in the film at all. The plot is once again an international organization of criminals trying to take over the world with the aid of the titles “death ray.” The director of this film, a certain Hugo Fregonese, is having the time of his life making a film that is almost impossible to follow without a scorecard or repeated viewings. James Bond is the role model here and we have agent 996 on the tiny secretive Projection Island somewhere in Malta where Peter Van Eyck is working as Major Anders. There are pretty girls (including Yoko Tani) counter spying secret agents until nothing really appears as it seems and that includes the evil doctor himself, who has many incarnations before the final reel. Once again when you start to watch these films in this order, a mad kind of continuity develops allowing you into this Mabuse landscape where no one is who you think they are and the world is never a safe place to live. Yvonne Furneaux (from Hammer’s THE MUMMY) and Leo Genn (CIRCUS OF FEAR) also star.

The disc includes an insert which is a nice replica of a German program booklet for RETURN, and the back cover has liner notes by Eric Hoffman. This set of films is worth a look or a rental and perhaps sometime in the not too distant future some company like All Day Entertainment will find great prints of all three. But until then, this may just have to fill the bill for the not too discriminating of collectors. (David Del Valle)