“He who possesses this weapon possesses the whole world”: The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse

In 1964 the Dr. Mabuse series ended with a whimper. The Death Ray Mirror of Doctor Mabuse (also known as just The Death Ray of Doctor Mabuse) is better than Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse, but it’s still just a third-rate Bond knockoff. The only real interest is that some of the elements — battles with frog-men, a one-eyed mastermind — appear to rip off Thunderball, which wasn’t released yet. Mabuse expert David Kalat wonders if the screenwriters on Thunderball saw Death Ray and stole from them, instead of vice-versa.

That said, our protagonist, womanizing British spy Bob Anders (bland Peter Van Eyck again) is very much a Bond clone. In the opening, he’s interrogating Pohland (Walter Rilla), Mabuse’s most recent puppet, about the devil doctor’s current plans. As Pohland has no memory of Mabuse’s plans, his keepers resort to electroshock to stimulate his memory. Pohland babbles “Death ray… death ray” but then the lights go out and when they come back up Pohland’s disappeared. He does not reappear (lucky Rilla!).

Anders boss then sends him to Admiral Quincy (Leo Glenn), the head of British intelligence in the Mediterranean. Anders’ new mission is to protect Dr. Larsen (O.E. Hasse), a scientist working on a death ray — holy crap, could there be a connection with Dr. Mabuse? To pass as a tourist, Anders brings along Judy (Rika Dialina), an occasional girlfriend who has no idea about Anders’ day job and can’t understand why they’re not just making love until they pass out. When Mabuse’s men blow up Anders’ room — it turns out everyone in town knows he’s a spy — Quincy’s crew send Judy to work in a local brothel, which she enjoys a lot. Why yes, the movie’s sexist as well as bad.

Larsen has developed a deadly laser that gains power as it’s reflected off mirrors, and can bounce off the moon to hit any target on earth. As Britain refused to finance his research, he’s now looking to sell the ray to the highest bidder. Rather than simply pony up with the cash, Britain’s looking to steal it. So is Mabuse. The main obstacle is that Larsen keeps the ray in one of those impregnable underground vaults this series loves.

If the vault is opened in any way but the right combination, everything inside self-destructs. The combination periodically resets and even Larsen doesn’t know it. He makes himself forget with autohypnosis, after conditioning himself to remember the numbers when he concentrates on certain images. As the images are meaningless in themselves, forcing them out of him won’t help anyone.

Mabuse, of course, isn’t deterred: he has an army of frogmen to take the death ray by force, but he’s also on the inside of Larsen’s operation, where he hopes to learn the combination. His men, and a sexy female spy, attempt to kill or intimidate Anders. Our hero, of course, doesn’t scare. Quincy – badly scarred and wearing an eye patch — tells Anders that even if he dies it’s a win for his country: Mabuse will become overconfident and British intelligence can get the drop on him.

As Mabuse prepares for an assault on Larsen’s lab, Anders eavesdrops on Larsen telling Gilda the combination’s secret. Despite all the build-up and the talk of hypnosis, all Larsen’s done is base the combination on the moves in a famous chess game; anyone who looks at the details of the game can figure it out. As witness Anders gets into the vault, steals the ruby that generates the laser, then leaks the combination to lure Mabuse into a trap.

The best moment in the movie is that when Mabuse enters the vault, it turns out he’s Quincy. That’s a twist that suits the series perfectly, but the film promptly undoes it by having the real Quincy turn up. Did Mabuse just disguise himself as Quincy this one time? If he’s been doing it all along, why didn’t he have Quincy killed? We don’t get any answers; I doubt the writers had any. Quincy pulls the mask off Mabuse’ face to see who he really is (Botoni, a minor character played by Dieter Eppler). British forces drive off Mabuse’s frogmen, but Mabuse/Botoni escapes. When Anders catches him later, he’s in the same state as Pohland at the start of the film. It’s less like mind control and more like outright possession, with Mabuse abandoning his host body when convenient.

As in Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse, van Eyck is an inadequate protagonist. He plods through his adventures with a bored smirk, and neither he nor the story arouses any interest. Even in his sex scenes, the most emotion he can project is an annoyance at having to sleep with attractive women. Fortunately he can’t spoil a movie that was this mediocre and sloppy to start with.

Equally fortunate, the next Mabuse film, The Living Corpses of Doctor Mabuse, is much more fun. The original Mabuse series is dead; Mabuse lives on.


One comment

  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Death Ray may have beaten Thunderball to the screen, but, the novel was published in 1961. It, in turn, grew out of a script for an earlier, unrealized James Bond film script, Longitude 78 West (aka James Bond of the Secret Service), with the same plot. When the project went unfilmed, Fleming turned it into the novel, then got sued by the collaborator Kevin McClory, who got a judgement giving him rights to the film script and anything derived from it, while Fleming got literary rights. That is how Never Say Never Again was made, from that script.

    Besides, everyone who does modern pirates has one guy with an eye patch and frogmen. The frogmen element more after WW2 , but the eyepatch leader is in the pulps and earlier.

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