Szabo constructs a tight plot and Klaus Maria Brandauer, one of the most underrated of all European actors, makes the most of the sharp, clever dialogue. Szabo stages the film dynamically and it is never more captivating than when Brandauer is on screen persuading an hysterical soldier to give him a grenade and go to sleep, sweeping a whole courtroom onto his side, humiliating a heckler by hypnotising him into thinking he is a rooster, or convincing a woman to set a curtain on fire by conjuring memories of her childhood. Szabo also mobilises the character of Hanussen as a potent symbol of the historical transition that Germany underwent in the period between the two World Wars. Hanussen is an absolutely fascinating film.
The only complaint is the lack of interest in the background, which may well be due to budgetary reasons. The opening battlefield scenes are unconvincing there is a complete deficiency of any mud and dirt. Berlin in between the Wars is one of the most fascinating periods of Twentieth Century histor, but little of that is shown bar one obligatory decadent party scene and a mention, while nothing is shown of the countrys massive over-inflation and economic collapse.
One of the interesting things about the film is that Erik Jan Hanussen was a real person a stage hypnotist, astrologer and supposed clairvoyant who operated a theatre in Berlin just before the Second World War. Although, as soon as you read about the real Hanussen, the film here becomes an almost complete fiction if not whitewash. As opposed to the figure presented here, the real Hanussen was a charlatan who sought favour with Nazis, made predictions that Adolf Hitler was a great man and had high-ranking members of the Nazi Party, including reportedly Hitler himself, coming to seek divinations. The bizarre irony of this was that, despite his favour with Nazis, Hanussen was born a Jew but kept his birth well disguised. He was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1933. A more historically realistic version of Hanussen was depicted in the Werner Herzog film Invincible (2001) where Hanussen (as played by Tim Roth) is seen as nasty and bullying. Herzogs film concerns the also true character of a Jewish-Polish strongman that is hired as part of Hanussens act but caused a sensation when he refused to deny his ethnicity.
An earlier version of the story, Hanussen (1955), co-starring Klaus Kinski, was made in West Germany, although is not available in English.
Clip from the film here:-