Monday, September 30, 2013

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)


IMDB: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% (critics) 88%(audience)
Roger Ebert: 4/4 stars

Stars: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Fiedrich Feher
Written By: Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Directed By: Robert Wiene

Release Date: 26 Februrary 1920
Described by IMDB as: "
Dr. Caligari's somnambulist, Cesare, and his deadly predictions."

Although it is important to the history of film, overall I have to say that I found The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to be a bit difficult to get through, and it took me at least half of the film to actually understand what was going on. Looking back the storyline was good, I think this was my first silent film, so maybe it was just that I wasn’t used to it.


As I said, I found it quite difficult to follow, but the main storyline was of a flashback told by Francis after he and an older man see a woman, who Francis has called his fiancé, passes them as they are sitting in what seems to be a garden. He tells a story of a two friends, Francis and Alan, who go to a carnival and enter the tent of the mysterious Dr. Caligari. During the show Dr. Caligari opens a cabinet to reveal Cesare, who the Doctor keeps asleep in the cabinet and controls hypnotically. Caligari tells the audience that they can ask Cesare questions and he will tell them the answers of the universe because he knows all. Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live and he replies that Alan will be dead before dawn. The following morning Francis discovers that the prophecy has come true, at the hands of a mysterious murderer who has been terrorizing the town for a few days at this point. Francis and Jane, the woman who he is betrothed to, set out to investigate the mysterious Caligari and Cesare, and after Jane visits their carnival tent, she too gets attacked in the middle of the night. Francis discovers that it is in fact Cesare who has been doing the killings at the order of Dr. Caligari. Francis goes to the local insane asylum to see if Caligari was a patient there, and discovers that he is actually the asylum’s director. Francis and some of the asylum workers find Dr. Caligari’s journal and discover that he had become obsessed with a monk from 1703 who had been terrorizing small towns in northern Italy using a somnambulist to commit murder and that he had been searching for a somnambulist for himself to see if it could actually work. Caligari soon reveals his insanity when he discovers that Cesare has died. When the film returns to “present day” the twist ending is revealed when it becomes clear that all of the Francis is at the asylum and all of the characters in his story are there with him as well, as patients.


The film set was quite interesting, and it seems as though even in the 20’s some movies were still filmed on stage-like sets. The films importance in the history of film was its ending. It was the first twist ending in a film, and I have to say it was a good one; it definitely made the film worth watching. Also, apparently it’s considered to be one of the greatest horror films of the silent film era. This could be true as I have seen very few films that fit that genre, but I sure hope it isn't.

I would recommend this only to the hardcore film lovers out there who enjoy films that are important to the history of cinema. It runs only at 67 minutes, but it was a painful hour. I'll give it a 6/10 only for its importance as the first movie with a twist ending, and its a good twist at that.