Random Thoughts on The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)


To view The Testament of Dr. Mabuse click here.

Watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) again recently, I was struck by many things. So many, in fact, that coming up with just one angle from which to approach the subject seemed like a cheat as there were numerous angles available. Sometimes you watch a movie and a rush of thoughts, memories and ideas keep crashing into you from the screen, never letting you focus in on just one element of the film at any given time. That’s not a bad thing either and I think it’s one of the primary reasons that the best movies reward multiple viewings. A great and complex movie makes you think of different things while it’s going on, so you can’t possibly take it all in with only a single viewing. You must watch it again, and again, and again. And even then, you might not know exactly how to put it all together. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is one such movie and I have no single theme to tackle here. Rather, I’d like to take a kind of epistolary approach, a cataloging of mental diary entries and newspaper clippings that swirled around my head as I watched.


Ingrid Bergman, a Legend in Any Language

EUROPA '51 (1952)

Chances are any film lovers worth their salt encountered Ingrid Bergman at a fairly early age, most likely through her iconic role in Casablanca (1942) or her trio of films for Alfred Hitchcock: Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and the black sheep of the trio (and the only one in saturated Technicolor), Under Capricorn (1949). One of the most prominent and popular of the many European émigrés who transformed Hollywood before and during World War II, she is also perhaps the most fascinating example of someone bridging the often peculiar relationship between the Old World and Tinseltown.


September 5, 2015
David Kalat
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The Misunderstood Legacy of Dr. Caligari

There are times when the received wisdom on a movie separates from the movie itself and starts to run down a track of its own. Consider “Play it again, Sam,” the Thing Everybody Knows about Casablanca even though that line is never spoken in the film. Thinking that’s a line in Casablanca is a trivial error with no real consequences—the sentiment is recognizable from the film, such that it can be true-ish if not strictly accurate.

But then there’s the strange case of Dr. Caligari. Somewhere along the line, the Thing Everybody Knows about this landmark classic of horror cinema took root in our culture like intellectual kudzu—quickly overtaking all available territory and choking to death all the alternative points of view. Thankfully, this remarkable film is making a mini-comeback thanks to some intrepid restorationists, affording an opportunity to rethink its legacy.  (Plus it’s on TCM this Sunday, so now’s the time to read up and do our homework on it, right?)


KEYWORDS: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Star-childs: From Soviet Union era Czechoslovakia to Kubrick

A copy of Ikarie XB 1 was recently put in my hands along with an enthusiastic recommendation. “It’s a game-changer,” my friend said. “Its influence on Kubrick is obvious.” As most people know, the seed for 2001: A Space Odyssey came in the form of a short story by Arthur C. Clark written in 1948 called The Sentinel (first published in 1951 as Sentinel of Eternity). However, it’s probably more accurate to say that the bulk of ideas that contributed to the end product of Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece came to the filmmaker and Clark during 1964. That was the brain-storming year when both were reading, watching, and doing as much homework as possible that might be relevant to their project. Watching Ikarie XB 1 now it seems self-evident to me that this  Czech film from 1963 directed by Jindřich Polák, based on a story by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (who wrote the novel Solaris in 1961), was clearly on their radar.  [...MORE]

Lights Out for the Bank of America Cinema

Last week, news agencies reported that the Bank of America is resuming foreclosures this week, but Chicagoland movie lovers have their own reasons to be disgusted with the banking giant because they are shutting down the beloved Bank of America Cinema. A 38-year-old revival film series, the Cinema will show its last movie, Babes in Toyland with Laurel and Hardy, on December 18. This past Saturday, I attended for the last time to see Mickey One, Arthur Penn’s unique 1965 crime drama shot in Chicago.

The series is called the Bank of America Cinema, because it is housed in a bank building now owned by the BOA. Over the years, the series’ name changed based on the bank that owned the building. I began attending the series when I moved into the Portage Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side several years ago. At the time, it was called the Tallman Bank Cinema; later, it became the LaSalle Bank Cinema. Tallman and LaSalle were local bank chains, so when the nationally based Bank of America took over the building a couple of years ago, it was the beginning of the end, though no one realized it at the time.



Who the Heck Was Slavko Vorkapich?

A still from the opening montage in "Crime Without Passion" 1934

Think of a montage in a classic movie.  Are you picturing falling calendar pages, or swirling newspaper headlines spinning toward the camera lens, stock market crashes, the outbreak of wars or the mounting hysteria of an anonymous crowd evolving into a mob?

Perhaps we’ve seen them so many times, we are no longer conscious that these sequences in familiar movies were often composed with such artistry by unseen hands. Yet, if you are an inveterate credit reader of classic films, one of the creative individuals who developed these artful transitions had what is still an unjustly unfamiliar name to many of us.

Even if the name of Slavko Vorkapich (1894-1976) fails to ring a bell, you definitely know his work, especially if you happened to catch Wednesday evening’s broadcast of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939-Frank Capra) on TCM. In a matter of moments, a lively montage unfolded in that film, telescoping the overwhelmingly heady experience of Jimmy Stewart‘s impressions of the nation’s capitol as he went on a whirlwind travelogue of the sights, ending at one of the most moving, the Lincoln Memorial. Bursting with movement and rapid visual imagery, the sequence conveys the naive Stewart‘s ebullience, awe and sense of freedom once he eludes his handlers, (led by the inimitable froggy-voiced Eugene Pallette).

That was just one example of Vorkapich‘s remarkable ability to goose the story of just about any film using a visual shorthand blending wipes, dissolves, flip-flops, and super-impositions to summarize and punctuate events during films, especially in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s.

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