THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) – The Dungeon Review!

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Banner

According to Wikipedia Expressionism is: A modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality. Expressionism was developed as an avant-garde style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic, particularly in Berlin. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including expressionist architecture, painting, literature, theatre, dance, film and music.

According to Guggenheim Museum (online) Expressionism is: Primarily Germany, and Austria, first decade of 20th century. The very elastic concept of Expressionism refers to art that emphasizes the extreme expressive properties of pictorial form in order to explore subjective emotions and inner psychological truths.

According to Goregirl Expressionism is: A mostly German thing as far as I know. Used in some very freaking cool German silent movies the bestest and shiningest example of which is Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The sets all look artificial and everything is severely angled and exaggerated in size. Every single gorgeous hand-painted set is extremely elaborate and immensely impressive. I dreamt of walking through a Dr. Caligari forest to a Dr. Caligari carnival every night for the past several nights. I’ve dreamt of being chased by letters of the alphabet and being kidnapped by a handsome somnambulist who wears a lot of eyeliner. I can not expressionism myself more clearly when I tell you anyone who loves and appreciates art and all things wonderful, strange and unique must absolutely positively visit Robert Wiene’s amazing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Viva la Expressionsim!

Writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer started the ball rolling with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s concept. The two were excited by this still very new medium called filmmaking. An endeavor that would bring together artists of all kinds; painters, actors, writers and photographers. The two men admired the work of Paul Wegener (The Student of Prague, Der Golem) and decided to begin work on a horror tale. The men drew on their experiences as all good writers should. Janowitz and Mayer regularly visited a local fair and were inspired by the sideshows; a key part of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s plot. The film’s visuals were put in the very capable hands of designer Hermann Warm and painters Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig. Fritz Lang was the first director approached but was committed to another project. Robert Wiene (whose film The Hands of Orloc is the next film in my queue to watch) was brought in to direct and the rest is history. I watched both a black and white and color tinted version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but I went with the pics from the color tinted version. I thought the images were sharper in the black and white version but I am a little bit in love with color tint at the moment so I decided to go with that print.

“The following print of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with the original color tinting and toning) was reconstructed by the Bundesarchiv – Filmarchiv of Germany.”

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A small German village called Holstenwall is the setting for our strange tale. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is “A film in six acts written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz.” The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not only visual eye candy it is also well written and well-performed. It has a perfect eerie atmosphere and a creepy vibe with an intriguing premise that keeps you mesmerized. The performances are all excellent but the iconic role of Cesare the Somnambulist played by the immensely talented Conrad Veidt is particularly memorable.

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Francis relays a story to a companion after a dazed woman walks by. The dazed woman is Jane; Francis’ fiancée. “What she and I have lived through is stranger still than what you have lived through.”

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This is Francis’ best friend Alan. Alan and himself both have their eye on Jane. The two decide to visit a carnival travelling through town. “Special edition fair in Holstenwall for the first time! Entertainments of every variety.”

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“Step Rrrrright Up! Presenting here for the first time Cesare the Somnambulist! The miraculous Cesare twenty-three years old, he has slept for twenty-three years continuously; day and night. Cesare the Somnambulist will answer all your questions. Cesare knows every secret. Cesare knows the past and sees the future. Judge for yourselves. Don’t hold back! Ask Away!”

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Alan cannot resist asking Cesare how long he shall live. Cesare tells Alan that he will die at dawn.

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Alan and Francis pause to read a post on the wall “Murder in Holstenwall 1000 Mark reward.”

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The somnambulist’s prophecy comes true and Alan is murdered at dawn.

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Francis goes to the police. “I won’t rest until I get to the bottom of these dreadful deeds!”

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Francis tells Jane of Alan’s death.

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“Extra! Extra! Holstenwall mystery solved; two-time murderer caught in third attempt.

“I had nothing to do with the two murders, so help me god.”

Indeed this gentleman has been wrongly accused.

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Jane meets Dr. Caligari and Cesare. Dr. Caligari orders the sleeping Cesare to murder nosy Jane but her beauty prevents Cesare from ending her life. Cesare attempts to kidnap her but gets exhausted from the chase.

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Back in the safety of her home she tells Francis it was Cesare who tried to abduct her. “It couldn’t be Cesare! He was asleep at the time. I’ve watched him for hours.”

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Dr. Caligari.

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Francis goes to the Insane Asylum and asks the staff if they have a patient called Caligari. They recommend that Francis speak to the director personally.

“He, himself and none other than Caligari!”

“While the director now placed under observation is sleeping in his villa…” They take the opportunity to snoop through the director/Dr. Caligari’s office and discover a book on somnambulists as well as the doctor’s diary.

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“Director, unmask yourself, you are Dr. Caligari!”

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The film ends with a great twist although it was not the ending that writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer originally wrote for the film. Apparently the producers wanted a less grim ending and suggested the ending that was actually used; which I will not divulge for those who may not have seen it. I have seen close to thirty silent horror films at this point in my life and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is absolutely one of the best and most unique amoung them. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari deserves heaps of praise; it is a hypnotic, creepy and visually spectacular masterpiece.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Robert Wiene

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger

6 Responses to “THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. Great review of an excellent film. I watched the film again not long ago and am always impressed. I know folks who will not watch a silent movie or even a film in black and white! It’s where it all started,and they don’t know what they are missing. I would also like to add,that I am very happy to see the movie review world is no longer a male dominated place! Thanks to the internet,I have seen more girls/women who are not only first-rate writers like yourself,but who actually love Bava,Fulci,Doris Wishman,Hammer films, and so many other “psychotronic” films and personalities. You are,without a doubt,my favorite movie reviewer/writer of the new millennium!

    • I am going to have to put you on the payroll soon Conrad…just as soon as someone starts paying me 😛 As much as I am loving this silent films I really have ants in my pants to move on to the Something Weird stuff!! It warms my heart also that there are gals out there like Jo over at The Last Drive In and Heather at Mondo Heather that love the horror and the strange and unusual. Although frankly I am just happy to connect with people that like the same flicks that I do. My local friends do not like what I like although every now and again they let me twist their arm. Merci Monsieur Conrad!

      • hahahahahaha Not to worry,I will glad continue to praise you free of charge! I know what you mean about Something Weird! I know I will enjoy your reviews of their titles as well. I ordered VHS tapes from Something Weird from their very first catalog,which was basically just a list of awesome titles. Same here about local friends. They don’t get it,but I have been a horror/science fiction/exploitation film fan for 51 years now,and like you,am excited to find kindred spirits via the internet. Wishing you a great weekend and good things always,Goregirl! 🙂

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  3. Victor De Leon Says:

    Incredible write up and essay! I LOVE this movie. I hold it in such high regard and your review touched upon some great points and had amazing insight. Especially about the hypnotic mood of the film. It works on so many levels and is so thought provoking with the incredible images. Great job!

    • Thank you so much! The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a horror masterpiece; silent or otherwise! I am so glad I revisted Dr. Caligari; I never gave this film the proper respect it deserved in my younger years. I really loved it! So much so that I will be adding to my personal collection soon!

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