It’s taken me forever to get back to Dr. Mabuse, simply because 1963’s Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse (Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard in the U.S.) is far and away my least favorite of the series. The follow-up, Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse, is poor, but it’s pseudo-Bond style makes it more interesting to talk about. Scotland Yard never manages that.
Rather than remake or rework Fritz Lang, as he did with Terror of Dr. Mabuse, producer Artur Brauner turned to Bryan Edgar Wallace, son of the once-legendary British novelist Edgar Wallace (David Kalat’s book on Mabuse goes into detail on both men’s popularity in Germany). Brauner adapted the son’s novel The Device in which master criminal Cockston plots to conquer the world with a mind-control ray. The device’s effects are limited, but Cockston uses them strategically and successfully until his ultimate defeat.
In Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse, by contrast, the device gives Mabuse much greater control of its targets. While this makes Mabuse (Walter Rilla) more powerful than Cockston, Kalat points out his plan require less brains: any idiot with the same tech could do as well.
Having survived his apparent death at the end of Terror of Dr. Mabuse (who could have guessed?), Mabuse (still the brainwashed Dr. Pohland) relocates to England. He obtains the mind-control device from its inventor, then uses the ray to arrange the man’s murder. Mabuse incorporates the mind-control ray into a camera; posing as photographers, his team enslave countless victims in positions of authority, even Britain’s Princess Diana (well before the real one came along, obviously).
Mabuse’s main opponent is Scotland Yard’s Bill Tern, played by Peter Van Eyck. As Travers in 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Van Eyck was part of an ensemble cast and he worked fine. Here, at the center of the film, he’s way too bland. His most important ally is not his fellow cops but his mother Gwendoline (Agnes Windeck), a slightly dotty widow who devours pot-boiler mysteries by the score. This allows her to think outside the box and see what her more conventional son misses.
With Mom’s help, Scotland Yard discovers that a particular brand of hearing aid neutralizes the signal from the crime cameras. Gwendoline provides a suitcase full of hearing aids, the police storm Mabuse’s HQ and Mabuse ends up trapped inside his own safe (ever since his first film, Mabuse has been ending up trapped in places like that). As the police get him out, we see Mabuse’s hypnotic control finally snap; Pohland is himself again, and completely baffled about what’s going on.
Despite the capable Pohland and the presence of Klaus Kinski in a supporting role, this movie is the low point of Brauner’s Mabuse films. But at least now I can move on.