The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, brought to you by the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, a/perture cinema. The film stars Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover.
Per IMDb: “Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist, Cesare, and his deadly predictions.”
I don’t think even IMDb knew what to say about this film. It’s a silent horror movie from film’s “toddler” period and whilst not to hard to follow, I found it hard to stay focused. Many constructed, cartoonishly drawn sets and props, it’s almost more comical than horror, but I’m sure at the time, which is a time prior to the desensitized movie goers we’ve all become, it was scary. The imagery, sets notwithstanding, was dark and gruesome. I’ll be honest and tell you that generally watch my Movies of the Week whilst doing other things intermittently. I do watch the films and know everything that’s going on, but may write a blog post, check emails, book travel, etc. whilst I watch. The silent movie aspect of this film made it hard to do that, when there was “dialog” on the screen. The film itself was easy, the dialog difficult. It is easily considered on of the best, if not the best, work of the German Expressionist cinema era.
Directed by Robert Weine, the film tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Dr. Caligari) who uses a somnambulist, or sleepwalker (Cesare) to commit murders within a sleepy German town. It was written by two former WWI German soldiers (Carl Meyer, Hans Janowitz) who pretty much hated the German government afterwards. They were left disenchanted by the authorities that ruled. There’s symbolism in the film from Dr. Caligari representing the Germans, Cesare represting the common folk that had to do what they’re told by the government. Dr. Caligari has Cesare murder anyone that gets in his way or crosses him. That sounds like the German government from that time, right?
The further the film went the more it made some sense. The story is told from the memories of Francis, one of the characters, and this has to be one of the first “plot twists” ever in cinematic history. That twist is pretty cool, especially for the time. Eerie music played throughout (I’m sure it was done live in theaters at the time) helped perpetuate the dark themes.
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% Fresh with an Audience Score of 90%. The critics consensus from Rotten Tomatoes states: “Arguably the first true horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set a brilliantly high bar for the genre — and remains terrifying nearly a century after it first stalked the screen.” IMDb has it at 8.1 stars out of 10. So, the incredibly short description and the incredibly high rating has me perplexed. I do think that the payoff at the end was worth it, even if it was a bit dragging at the beginning. I saw this on Netflix and recommend it to anyone who wants to see how the genre really got started or fans of early cinema. I rate the film 3.75 stars out of 5. Have you seen it? What did you think? What films would you like me to review in the future? Drop me a line.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“And from that day on, the madman never again left his cell.” – Francis