Sometime after the supposed death of mastermind Dr Mabuse, detective Gert Frobe’s plans for a holiday are interrupted when a courier is murdered on a train. As corpses pile up, clues lead to a prison and supposed FBI agent Joe Como. But could Dr Mabuse be the driving force behind it all?
Legendary German film director Fritz Lang returned to his homeland to make films as failing eyesight brought his career to its end. One of them was a sequel to the films that made his name more than 30 years earlier. ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960) was critically panned (somewhat unfairly) but was successful enough to lead to a brief series of follow up pictures in Germany, of which ‘The Return of Dr Mabuse’ (1961) was the first. These were dubbed into English for the international market and Lex Barker (‘Tarzan’ from 1949 to 1953) was cast to help sell the films abroad.
This is a good, efficient thriller with atmospheric black and white photography. The plot appears initially simplistic but becomes quite tangled, whilst retaining a coherent narrative. Director Harold Reinl was no Lang but he capitalises on the swift pace and does evoke a sense of the omnipotence of Mabuse, which Lang had managed so brilliantly in his films. The expressionistic lighting around the appearances of the mysterious Doctor is also a welcome throwback to older German cinema.
The lack of large set pieces, gadgets and effects do betray a lack of ambition, or perhaps budget, but this is still a worthy inclusion in the series. Twists in the tale are clever without being too outlandish and Frobe, returning from ‘The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse’ (1960), is an unusual, but charismatic, leading man. His performance overshadows the more conventional romance between Barker (hero or villain?) and Karin Dor. The final plot reveal is also pleasing for fans of the series.
Four more films of varying quality followed but this one is definitely worth seeking out. Probably best to avoid the poster art on the U.S. release, though:
‘He isn’t here, he isn’t there,
Yet his terror strikes everywhere!
He kills and kills without excuse,
THE EVIL and FIENDISH DR. MABUSE!’