Remembering Artur Brauner and Dr. Mabuse

This will only be a short post, because I’m still hard at work doing the 2019 July short story challenge. If you want to follow along, bookmark my July short story challenge day by day post.

Meanwhile, I’m also over at Galactic Journey (not to mention fifty-five years in the past) again today, this time with an article about the great bodyhopping supervillain Dr. Mabuse and his remarkable criminal career which stretched from the Weimar Republic into the 1960s and beyond. For more about the evil Doctor, you can also read the article I wrote about him for Thriller UK in the early 2000s (PDF link), which covers Mabuse’s entire filmic career. Though Mabuse’s appearance became sporadic after Die Todesstrahlen des Dr. Mabuse (The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse) came out in September 1964 (this film will be covered in an upcoming Galactic Journey article). Afterwards, Mabuse was relegated to a retitled Hammer mad scientist movie that had nothing to do with him originally, an unwatchably bad Jess Franco movie, a guest appearance in the Austrian TV show Kottan ermittelt (Kottan investigates), which is still the only Mabuse appearance I have never seen, an earnest but ultimately unsuccessful revival attempt by Claude Chabrol which was entitled Dr. M. for rights’ reasons, a graphic novel and a couple of audio dramas in the 2000s as well as a new movie that was never made.

Though Mabuse still stalks German crime fiction, because he’s such a versatile character who can be plugged into any situation. Plus, he’s basically immortal, so he can cause a lot of harm over the decades. I’ve always wanted to pit the Silencer against Dr. Mabuse or rather a character who is Mabuse in everything but the name, since the character is still under copyright. And in Volker Kutscher’s Gereon Rath historical mysteries, upon which the TV show Babylon Berlin is based (the books are much better though, with better female characters, who are not all occasional prostitutes, and the research is excellent, compared to some anachronistic howlers in the TV show), Berlin police inspector Gereon Rath tangles with the sinister Johann Marlow, medical doctor turned criminal mastermind, who once again is Mabuse in all but the name. Meanwhile, Gereon Rath’s boss is the legendary head of the Berlin police homicide department Ernst Gennat, the real life model for Mabuse’s most persistent pursuer Kommissar Lohmann. The TV show downplays the Marlow character and also changes his name, probably again due to rights issues. Though I would love to see the team behind Babylon Berlin do a proper Mabuse movie.

And talking of Dr. Mabuse, Artur Brauner, the German film producer who produced the postwar Dr. Mabuse movies and whose company holds the rights to the character, died yesterday aged 100. Artur Brauner survived the Holocaust and later became (West) Germany’s most successful film producer, producing dozens of movies in his long and successful life.

Most obituaries focus on the various movies about the Holocaust that Brauner produced, movies which were very important to him for obvious reasons. And Brauner produced not only the first movie about the Holocaust made in West Germany (and I think one of the first wordwide), Morituri in 1948, but also the Golden Globe winning Hitlerjunge Salomon (Hitler Youth Salomon), which for unknown reasons was retitled Europa, Europa for international release. I have no idea why this was done, because Hitler Youth Salomon is pretty much the perfect title. It both tells you at a glance what the story is about and is also intriguing enough that you want to know more. And it also refers to the infamous Nazi propaganda film Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex). Meanwhile, Europa, Europa sounds like the title of a documentary about the European Union. But whatever the title, the film is well worth watching.

However, Artur Brauner’s oevre includes so much more than movies about the Third Reich and the Holocaust. He was one of the true greats of German postwar cinema, did a lot to restore German cinema to the glory days of the Weimar Republic (including remaking several Weimar era classics) and made dozens of movies in many genres, including a lot of forgettable flicks (he even produced trashy softcore erotica in the 1970s), but also some minor and major classics. I’ve already written about the Dr. Mabuse series above, but Brauner – who always had a nose for trendy topics – also produced some of the Edgar Wallace and Winnetou movies, though the better known ones were made by Horst Wendtland.

Artur Brauner enticed Fritz Lang to return to Germany for his last three movies, the above mentioned 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse as well as the 1959 duology The Tiger of Eshnapur and The Indian Tomb. Both are the sort of “exotic” adventure movies that were popular from the 1920s well into the 1950s and haven’t dated all that well, but at least the 1959 version (there have been two previous adaptations of the novel by Fritz Lang’s ex-wife and Metropolis screenwriter Thea von Harbou in 1921 and 1938) at least questions the habit of white westerners to barge into India with zero knowledge of and respect for the local culture. The Maharadja may be a villain, but the protagonist, German architect Harald Berger (Paul Hubschmid), is not a good person (he seduces the Maharadja’s intended bride Seetha, played by Debra Paget) and the movie knows it.

Artur Brauner also produced the best adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s crime novel The Pledge as Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It Happened in Broad Daylight) in 1958, which is not just a great thriller, but also the granddaddy of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels, the TV show Criminal Minds and the profiling thrillers of today. Gestehen Sie, Dr. Corda (Confess, Dr. Corda) is another great crime thriller produced by Artur Brauner also in 1958.

Furthermore, Artur Brauner produced the only Johannes Mario Simmel adaptation worth watching, the delightful 1961 spy comedy Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein (It can’t always be caviar) and the sequel Diesmal muß es Kaviar sein (This time it has to be caviar).

Artur Brauner was also very active in the juvenile delinquent subgenre of the 1950s and produced the film that kicked off the genre, Die Halbstarken (Teenage Wolfpack) in 1956. I’m not a huge fan of Die Halbstarken, which is basically a juvenile delinquent sleaze paperback in movie form and terribly sexist besides, but it was a huge success and spawned a host of immitators, many of which were produced by the enterprising Artur Brauner. The most interesting of the many “troubled youth” movies Brauner produced is Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform), a drama set at a girls’ boarding school with hints at lesbian love. Yes, Artur Brauner cast Romy Schneider, the darling of West German postwar cinema, as a teenage lesbian and that in 1958. The romance of course ends tragically – well, it was 1958.

Artur Brauner even produced one of the comparatively few science fiction movies made in Germany post-WWII, Zurück aus dem Weltall (Moon Wolf) in 1959. It’s basically a touching story about a man and his dog, where the dog just happens to be a canine astronaut. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find.

Finally, let’s give a shout-out to what supposedly was Artur Brauner’s personal favourite of the many films he produced, the 1960 adaptation of Der brave Soldat Schwejk (The Good Soldier Schwejk), starring Heinz Rühmann. It’s a pretty good movie, the rare example of an anti-war movie that’s also funny, and won Brauner an Academy Award nomination, one of several. He eventually won an Academy Award in 1972 for The Garden of the Finzi Continis, which I haven’t seen.

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3 Responses to Remembering Artur Brauner and Dr. Mabuse

  1. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 7/8/19 Mike Has Some Little Pixels, He Makes Them Into Files, And When We Come To Read Them, The Comments Scroll For Miles | File 770

  2. Fraser says:

    I’ve been reviewing the Mabuse films over at Atomic Junkshop. Been blocked for a while on Vs. Scotland Yard as that’s my least favorite (Death Ray isn’t good, but it’s more interesting). It’s definitely worth seeing Dr. M if you can find it, though the villain’s confidence you can no more stop him than you can topple the Berlin Wall hasn’t aged well at all.
    I had no idea Brauner was still alive in the 21st century.

    • Cora says:

      I’ll have to check out your reviews at Atomic Junkshop.

      The problem with Scotland Yard vs. Dr. Mabuse is that it is an Edgar Wallace film disguised as a Mabuse film, so the feel is different, e.g. due to the comic relief characters like Agnes Windeck’s quirky little old lady (a role she played in various Wallace films). Another unintentionally hilarious thing about the German version is that some of the actors clearly have no idea how to pronounce “Duke”, so the gentleman in question is constantly referred to as “Duck”.

      “Death Ray” isn’t particularly good, though Mabuse as a Bond film is less incongruous than Mabuse as a Wallace film. Plus, the design for the secret death ray lab is pretty cool. I’ll have to rewatch it soon for my review for Galactic Journey.

      Regarding Artur Brauner, he had a long life and was healthy and still working well into his 90s. He also still appeared at movie premieres, the Berlin film festival and the like until fairly recently.

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