There are very few directors (and no actors) whose films I’ll watch simply because of their involvement. Fritz Lang, though, seems to have joined that list.
The first film of his that caught my interest was Metropolis, several years ago and, I’ll admit, primarily due to the anime connection. I enjoyed it and even wrote a paper on it for a film class in my freshman year at university, but for whatever reason didn’t follow-up with any of his other films until recently, when I watched M and then, just yesterday, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.
Both films remind me of film noir in both their visual style and tone. Most of the characters are criminals, and both have a dark look to them with lots of shadows. Mabuse even has that noir visual trope of the shadows of Venetian blinds going across a character’s face. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but they also feel more modern to me than the Hollywood movies I’ve seen from the same time frame, but perhaps that simply owes to a relatively small sample size on my part.
Unfortunately, Dr. Mabuse’s plot to save the world by destroying it reminded me of a Final Fantasy-style villain, but I guess that wasn’t a trope yet in 1933, so whatever.
One thing I like about M, Mabuse, and some film noir for that matter, is that they do a good job portraying criminals in a way that’s believable and, sometimes, almost sympathetic, without glamourising them or making them the “heroes” of the films. In M, for example, the paedophile and child-murderer is certainly the villain, yet we can also recognise that the vigilante justice the mafia tries to impose on him isn’t quite fair.
On a final, side note, one oddity that I noticed is that the police inspector in both M and Mabuse is played by the same man, Otto Wernicke. Not only that, in both films the character’s name is “Lohmann.” Are these two movies supposed to be in continuity with each other? Lang seems to have made a few movies around the character Dr. Mabuse, so I guess it’s possible. Stranger, perhaps, is that I struggle to remember any but the most famous contemporary actors, yet I managed to pick out this German actor from the 1930’s.