Made in Germany in 1960, Fritz Lang’s last film has a claim to be the most underrated movie of the 20th century — and one of the most frightening. The plot of The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is as innocuous-looking as that of its predecessor, 1933’s Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse ("The Testament of Dr. Mabuse"). The focus of the crime wave sweeping the city (any city, but in fact Berlin) seems to be the Hotel Luxor (which the Nazis built in 1944, with the idea of attracting and spying on foreign diplomats). Police Commissioner Kras (Gert Fröbe, a/ka Goldfinger) is getting tips from Peter Cornelius (Wolfgang Preiss), a blind clairvoyant — but what’s behind those white contact lenses? Insurance salesman Hieronymus B. Mistelzweig (Werner) has taken a peculiar interest in Cornelius’s seeing-eye German shepherd. And having coaxed Marion Ménil (Dawn Addams) down off the Luxor’s 14th-floor hotel ledge, millionaire industrialist Henry B. Travers (Peter Van Eyck) wants her to divorce her abusive husband and marry him. He obviously hasn’t seen Vertigo or he’d think twice about getting involved with a mystery woman who tries to commit suicide by jumping.
As for Dr. Mabuse (who owes much to Sherlock Holmes’s Professor Moriarty), he’s supposed to have died back in Testament, but Fritz Lang’s legacy is the ubiquity of evil. So it hardly matters whether Cornelius or Mistelzweig or Marion’s psychiatrist, Professor Jordan (Wolfgang Preiss again), is the real Napoleon of crime. More worrisome is how Cornelius convinces Henry Travers he’s the real thing by "knowing" that Henry cut his finger that morning. "I was alone," Henry says; what he doesn’t realize is that the thousand eyes of Dr. Mabuse are the thousand television cameras of the Hotel Luxor. You’ll be watching a scene you think is real only to have Lang pan back and reveal it’s a TV image. (Welcome to Alphaville, four years early.) Henry is induced to ogle Marion through a one-way mirror; when her husband threatens her, he bursts through the mirror, grabs her gun, and uses it. Has he broken the illusion of the fourth wall? Or is he just another cog in the unseen director’s script?
What’s not open to question is that, as usual, Fritz Lang is way ahead of his time. "Do you think anybody heard the shot?", Marion asks Henry. The thousand ears of Dr. Mabuse did..