Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) Reviews
(Full review TBD)
*SPOILER* What I had dismissed as an odd opening could have actually given away the twist. This whole story is constructed as a narrative by Francis, as he is telling this to a willing listener in some garden. Francis' fiancee Jane (Lil Dagover) is wandering through the garden, disengaged from human interaction. Francis observes her wandering with ecstatic attention, while the listener seems like he is in his own world. When Francis begins to tell the story, the listener looks like he is trying not to fall asleep! Rude, right? Maybe. Once the story is over, we return to the garden. Our heroes lived to tell the tale. And then they walk to the main hall... of the asylum. Francis proposes to Jane (weren't they already engaged?), Cesare is hanging out with everybody else, and Caligari enters the hall as the director of the asylum, who, perhaps understandably, instills fear in Francis, one of his many patients. Francis seems to have been in the asylum for a while, as when he points to the director and screams, "Dr. Caligari!," the director has this A-HA moment as to what might be wrong with Francis. This eliminates most probability of this being another experiment conducted by the nefarious Caligari. Coming down from the high of a twist ending, I would say that the creepy visuals of the movie are not too diminished by the story, one way or another. The music was suitably atonal. The twist can justify some, but not all, pacing and acting issues, as if they were the poor creation of a madman. That is a stretch, if I were truthfully judging the quality of the movie. I would watch it again, to see how I absorb everything with the knowledge of what the story actually is.
This film noir has influenced so many films throughout Hollywood history, and from that perspective alone, is worth watching.
Francis, his fiancée, and his best friend head to a county fair that has a fortune teller of sorts, Dr. Caligari. Dr. Caligari is able to awake a dead creature/man named Cesare who can tell the future. Cesare tells the best friend he is going to die and he does that very night. Francis escapes to tell his tale. It will be hard to find the fair and doctor until Cesare slips up one night and falls in love with a girl he is supposed to kill. The girl's family, authorities, and Francis track the doctor back to Cesare and the girl at the fair.
"Step right up."
Robert Weine, director of Crime and Punishment, Der Rosenkavalier, Ultimatum, Eight Days of Happiness, Panic in Chicago, Scandal in Paris, and The Guardsman, delivers The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The storyline for this picture is very interesting and takes place in remarkable settings with beautiful backdrops, costumes, and contains perfectly performed performances.
"Let's go to the fair."
I came across this when it was recently added to Netflix for the Halloween season and added it to my wish list. I loved how this film was presented and told. The backdrops were so well done and the makeup and costumes were excellent. I strongly recommend seeing this for fans of the genre and era.
"We queens are not allowed to answer the call from our heart."
Directed by Robert Wiene in 1920, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the prime example of German Expressionism in film, a visual style in which characters and settings are distorted and out of joint. The film is set in a town on a pointy hill covered with sharp angular houses; it is obviously a painting on a backdrop, and we are meant to know so. Doors are triangular and slanted, windows resemble rhombuses, zigzag lines are meant to represent grass, and chimneys are tilted. There is not a single aspect of any set that is not distorted in some way.
The movie begins with an old man and young man sitting on a bench outdoors. The old man tells the young man that the world is full of spirits. The young man, Francis, then tells him his own story of how he came to lose his fiancé. The mysterious and sinister looking Dr. Caligari (who with his top hat, cane, and stout figure resembles the Batman villain, the Penguin) applies for a permit to showcase his somnambulist, Cesare, who has been asleep all 23 years that he has been alive. Caligari awakens Cesare from a coffin (or cabinet) before a crowd touting that Cesare, who wears all black and has a very pale face, knows the answer to any question. A friend of Francis's asks when he will die. The somnambulist replies...before the next morning. The prediction comes true; the friend is murdered. Caligari has total control over the somnambulist and uses him to carry out murder and other sinister acts. When Cesare abducts Francis's fiancé from her bed I was reminded of the scene in King Kong where Kong picks Fay Wray out of her room and carries her away. As Francis follows Caligari to learn more about the sinister doctor the plot thickens, and even twists, and the film only gets stranger.
The horror in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari comes from its distorted depiction of reality. It puts you in an uneasy mood right from the start and you feel as though you are in a surreal nightmare. As the film goes on you realize that there is no explanation for the bizarre shapes of things man-made and nature-made; this is simply the shape of the world. That daytime scenes are in a hazy yellow-orange filter and nights in an eerie blue just adds to the curious, but creepy, atmosphere of the film. This is a genuinely spooky, but not-too-scary movie that is also an important part of film history and an excellent film to watch this Shocktober.