The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – reviewed by George

Written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz and directed by Robert Wiene, this is German expressionism. Which to me always features interiors that look relatively normal (doors and window frames are perpendicular to the floor) and exteriors that are anything but: walls that swell out like bloated bodies, weird designs painted on floors that continue up walls, and strange furniture shapes. Plus, this movie has an expressionistic plot – the truth is very flexible.
Two men are talking while they sit on a bench. The older man speaks of spirits and how they have ruined his life, and the younger man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), says that the girl passing by them is his fiancee, and then tells his life story. A fair is coming to town and Francis’s friend Alan (Hans Heinz v. Twardowski) comes to get Francis to go to the fair with him. Still presumably Francis’s narrative, we now leave the two young men and watch an old man, Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss, who played Jack the Ripper in “Waxworks”) arriving at the town clerk’s office. While still outside he is warned not to go in: the clerk is in a vile temper today, and yes, we see the truth of that statement. The overwhelmed clerk shouts at Caligari, “WAIT!” Finally Caligari gets to ask for a permit to present his spectacle at the fair. “What spectacle?” “A somnambulist!” Caligari gets the permit and starts a series of shows. And that night the town clerk is murdered – stabbed in the side with a strange pointed instrument.
At the fair the next day the Dr. again presents The Mysterious Cesare, 23 years old and asleep for all his life (Conrad Veidt, who played Ivan the Terrible in “Waxworks”). And this time we see the act, in which Cesare is awakened, which alone is quite a performance: twitches, frowns, grimaces of pain – and at last Cesare opens his eyes! Now revived, he answers questions. Caligari says he is privy to everything. “He knows the past and sees the future”. Alan asks, “How long will I live?” And Cesare replies, “Till the break of dawn.”
The plot only gets more interesting: both young men are in love with Jane Olsen (Lil Dagover), but Francis says, “We’ll leave the choice up to her, but whomever she chooses, we’ll remain friends.” Her father, Dr. Olsen (Rudolph Lettinger), gets involved in examining Cesare, and at one time there are two Cesares.
This movie I really enjoyed and definitely recommend. You can still watch “Waxworks”, but I would suggest only for comparison purposes.

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