The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a horror fantasy released in 1920, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz. One of the most iconic movies of the German Expressionism tells the story of a mysterious hypnotist who uses a somnambulist to perpetrate homicides.
Hello, there! I’m dos Santos, and this is Ulven Reviews, with Movies and series from all over the world and all eras. Today we’ll talk about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, beginning with a plot summary, through the review and finishing with a symbolic Rating. Here we go!
Dr. Caligari, a hypnotist (played by Werner Krauss), goes to the town clerk to get a permit to present his show at the town fair. The clerk is extremely rude but approves the permit.
His show consists of having a 23-year-old man who slept his whole life finally awaken. The name of the somnambulist is Cesare (played by Conrad Veidt), and he knows the past, present, and future and will answer any questions of the audience.
During the night after Caligari getting his permit, the rude town clerk is murdered by some unknown perpetrator with some kind of a blade. The crime puts the town on alert, having a mysterious killer at large.
Next day, in the audience of Caligari’s show, there are two enthusiastic friends, Francis (played by Friedrich Fehér) and Alan (played by Hans Heinrich von Twardowski). Alan doesn’t resist the temptation and asks for how long will he live, getting the terrifying answer: Til the break of dawn!
On the way back home, the two friends meet Jane (played by Lil Dagover). Both of them fall in love with the woman, but they agree to let her decide who she’ll choose and that it won’t affect their friendship, regardless.
However, that very night, Alan is murdered the same way the town clerk, fulfilling Cesare’s prediction. And after the homicide of his best friend, Francis promises to find out what is going. He vows to not give up until he gets to the bottom of this mystery.
The following review might contain some spoilers!
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has a simple story, divided into 6 acts of around 10 minutes each. It’s considered to this day one of the scariest horror movies of all time, and the plot twist at the end is still poorly ripped off.
A one hundred years old film, yet the theme of the plot is still relevant. Based on the experiences of the writers during the first world war, this Anti-war horror is a critique of the power, represented by Caligari, commanding the common folk, represented by Cesare, to kill.
Sometimes, the editing and flow are a little weird, but I think it’s more than understandable. In 1920, films were around for roughly thirty years, but actual movies, with more than one shot, continuous narrative, and editing, for even less time. So everything was still very primordial.
More than that, there were moments in which the emotions of characters or their reactions are a little different than what we would expect in reality. Other times, it even feels disconnected from one scene to another.
So, performances. As the usual of films of the silent age, the acting is really different than what we became used to in the era of the Talkies. Since there were no words, the actors had to be very expressive, and even their make-up had to be more dramatic.
I watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for the first time some years ago, not sure how many, I only remember I was still in college. For all those years, what was my mind for the longest was the visuals.
The cinematography, as with most of the other aspects, is really basic, primordial in general. The use of lighting and shadows, though, is incredible and holds its own even against modern movies.
However, what I liked the most about it all was the production design, the distorted interior and exterior of the buildings, the objects, so on, everything. It even inspired me in the early settings of this channel.
Every piece of the production design has the aspect of something made for a stage play. It almost has a homemade appearance, so unique and charming. I absolutely love it.
I’m confused about the score. Something so fundamental for a silent movie, the music in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is really exceptional, matching perfectly everything we had on screen. However, in the version of the picture I watched, the score was a re-recording, probably it’s just the same as the original with a renewed quality.
My confusion comes from the fact that when I watched Hitchcock’s The Lodger, there were songs that were clearly newer. Because of it, I’m always suspicious about the score in silent movies.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a vital part of Cinema’s history. It inspires movies for a century after its original release, and the few flaws are expected in such an early film. I’ll give The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 9 Moons.