With the opening death, staged between two cars during rush hour, Fritz Lang inaugurates the Sixties as augustly as Michelangelo Antonioni did in L'Avventura that same year. The murder is predicted by a blind, silver-manned clairvoyant (Wolfgang Preiss), who describes it to the skeptical inspector (Gert Fröbe) over the phone; his office is tattooed with cosmic maps and Byzantine engravings, shades hide his blank eyes, "Does the name Dr. Mabuse mean anything to you?" Mabuse the criminal mastermind died in 1933 but this is Lang's report on the new epoch, old images with new limpidity, post-Hiroshima and post-Hitler, decidedly: the Luxor Hotel boasts Nazi foundations and a "negative aura," the heroine (Dawn Addams) is seen trembling on the ledge until Peter van Eyck (an Aryan "Henry B. Travers," a Yankee industrialist on NATO duty) convinces her back in. Addams says she is on the run from her abusive husband, but nobody is to be trusted, surfaces prove unreliable and a phone explodes -- the Cold War world of nuclear catastrophes is just as distressing as Weimar Germany, the only certain thing is uncertainty itself ("...und tod," the seer adds). Mabuse has more to work with now, most notably the surveillance technology which gives him thousands of eyes -- Addams and van Eyck talk at a party when the camera pulls back to reveal an image on a TV monitor, a one-way mirror later on catches Addams entering her room in a slip then crumbling to the floor, crying. A welter of influences is manifest, from Godard to James Bond to Dario Argento (Werner Peters was cast for flavor in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Suspiria's seeing-eye canine attack is anticipated), yet the main thrust of this late masterpiece is Lang's own trajectory from past to present, summarizing both his German and American periods for complete translucence of style. Classicism and modernism are braided by anxiety, yet Lang to the end rejects misanthropy, leaving his characters (and cinema) in a fragile but hopeful embrace. With Andrea Checchi, Marie-Louise Nagel, Howard Vernon, and Reinhard Kolldehoff. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce