Dr Mabuse vs Scotland Yard (Paul May, 1963)
For the multitudes keeping score, the megalomaniacal world war-spanning Dr Mabuse had been declared officially dead (toe tag and all) at the end of the previous Mabuse entry, 1962’s The Testament of Dr Mabuse (both sequel and direct remake to the Fritz Lang-directed 1933 masterpiece of the same name), the fourth in the 1960’s re-ignited series by enterprising German producer Artur Brauner and the seventh in the overall Mabuse saga (if you consider the four hour plus silent 1922 masterwork that started it all, also by Lang, as two films, which was how it was released at the time), as free-wheeling, nonsensical and simplistic as the series was becoming (and this ‘Scotland Yard’ entry really takes the cake on those fronts), so to keep up with the growing loopiness, it was high time for the mythic doc to stop simply either hypnotically mind-controlling susceptible mad fellow megalomaniacal doctors or (somehow) taking on different faces (to be revealed at the end as – ‘Ah ha! It has been Doctor Mabuse!’) as a metaphorical figment of man’s propensity towards greed and violence and to now just have his evil soul enter whoever he wants (as indicated in “Scotland Yard” by a brief glimpse of the double exposed disembodied visage of the wild-haired Wolfgang Preiss — the post-war Mabuse actor of choice – moving awkwardly across space to disappear into the head of whoever he’s going to possess) to continue his nefarious plans of mass chaos from which his empire of crime can emerge (I mean guess it’s still his goal… it’s all getting a bit muddled by this point).
The man possessed, in the very first scene, is criminally insane asylum director Professor Pohland (Walter Rilla), who not only has still somehow been left in charge of the asylum for the criminally insane (after revealing himself to be feverishly susceptible to Mabuse and getting all mind-controlled in _ Testament_), but is unaccountably left alone to document Mabuse’s final scribblings (obviously, someone should have re-considered the decision-making of that asylum’s administration).
Keeping in mind, the relatively muddy, poorly dubbed VHS version I was able to see of the film had been shorn of at least 15 minutes of its original running time (coming in at a very swift 80 minutes), the film moves along at an exceedingly rapid pace, leaving huge narrative gaps, with little explanation for things like how the crazy mind-controlling devices (that look a lot like portable 16mm cameras with an extra light that apparently does the telepathic dirty-work) the hand-wringing Pohland/Mabuse gets his hands on through his growing collection of henchmen (how does he manage to muster up all these guys to do his bidding?) actually works.
As the title suggests, Mabuse/Pohland has left behind Germany and shuttled off to England to get his hands on the devices, with agents of Scotland Yard now running around with guns in their hands and scratching their heads, trying to figure out things like why a mailman suddenly was driven to kill that brilliant doctor who was working on those top secret mind-control projects. Since the last entry, plump Gert Fröbe had moved on to greener pastures with his James Bond “Goldfinger” role, so his reliable raincoat wearing Inspector Lohman was gone forever from the Mabuse series, replaced by two performers as the latest authority figures, Werner Peters and Peter Van Eyck, familiar in different roles already in the cycle (and quite good in them up to now), though left with little to play with this time around. Hawk faced, legendary wild man Klaus Kinski shows up as an inspector who gets zapped into a mindless zombie doing the bidding of crime as well (before simply falling asleep, which gets you right out of the spell upon waking) and even he doesn’t really stand out (though it’s always fun to see him).
A young Klaus Kinski (left)
This was the first Mabuse film that was based upon another source (other than the starting point of the original post-World War I Norbert Jacques Mabuse stories) – namely, a book by the at-the-time uber-prolific British espionage thriller writer (and apparently, from what I’ve read, we’re talking Stephen King level) Bryan Edgar Wallace (with his Papa Bear Edgar Wallace having been an even more massively successful author, leading to him having written the original King Kong), adapted for the screen by Ladislas Fodor (who wrote every one of the 60’s Mabuse cycle films, all produced by lead Mabuse-phile and Lang-lover Brauner) – which is ironic, because the young Wallace’s wildly gadget-filled writings had been openly influenced by the recent Mabuse cycle by this point, which was making it all a weird cannibalistic pop-phase of the moment.
Other than a few nice moments (such as the moodily captured one in which the Mabuse henchmen sitting in the audience ‘mind-control’ an executioner into hanging himself rather than the condemned is a particularly good one, if completely absurd plot-wise) and Agnes Windeck’s vaguely inspired comedic detective-story mother, who is able to deduce exactly what’s going on off brief news reports and snippets of information far more quickly than her son, van Eyck’s Major, who slowly learns to stop dismissing her wild theories, this is the weakest, most perfunctorily executed entry so far.
After Testament from the year before which — while nowhere near the masterpieces of angst and existential dread that the earlier German Lang Mabuse films were (or even as good as the first Lang-directed film out of the gate, the thematically rich The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse that ignited the 60’s Brauner-produced cycle) —did provide a burst of excitement to the flagging series, Scotland Yard, alas, is a further comedown. Where Testament director Werner Klinger brought back some fresh cinematic flair, the best that can be said about director Paul May with Scotland Yard is his work is competent; there’s a moment of inspiration here and there (such as the hangman sequence), but very little that stands out.
While there is some fun at watching another entry in what has to be considered one of the oddest franchises in cinema history — a mish-mash of wonky gadgetry and scifi, horror and espionage, with the most unlikely of megalomaniacal ghostly villains at its helm — Dr Mabuse vs Scotland Yard, on its own, falls away as a mediocre and pedestrian effort from an obviously tiring Brauner and crew. Let’s see what they can muster up for the final entry in the official cycle The Death Ray of Dr Mabuse churned out, no surprise, assembly-line style like the rest of them, within a year after this one’s release.