The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Movie Review)
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a silent film, made in Germany in 1920. It is often believed to be the first ever horror film and I would probably agree with that, but there is a French horror film called The Devil’s Castle (Le Manoir Du Diable) made in 1896, and so obviously it could also lay claim to being the first, but with a runtime of only around three minutes I am not sure if it can really be called a film.
First horror film or not, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari seems to be available in various lengths, the shortest of which is the Spanish version which has a runtime of just 50 minutes. The French version is the longest one and has a runtime of 78 minutes.
The story is told in flashback by a young man named Francis who is explaining to an older gentleman the events that happened when a carnival came to the mountain village of Holstenwall, bringing with it the strange and sinister Dr Caligari, who kept his travelling companion in a box.
The man the doctor traveled with and displayed in his act at the carnival was called Cesare and he was a somnambulist. Cesare is one strange and freaky looking dude, who remained asleep until his master, Caligari, commanded him to awake. Part of Caligari’s act was a boast that, once awakened, Cesare could answer any question.
Francis had his best-friend Alan with him at the carnival and Alan asked Cesare how long he would live. Cesare told Alan that his time was short and that he would die at dawn. Sure enough poor old Alan was murdered at dawn while still in his bed.
Francis was devastated when he heard of Alan’s death and he and his girlfriend, Jane, for whom he and Alan were love rivals (though highly sporting about it) began to investigate Caligari and Cesare. It didn’t take long before Jane was kidnapped from her bed and the plot, as they say, thickened.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari does not offer edge of your seat excitement, but it is quite an enjoyable and darkly atmospheric film to watch and I must say that the distorted way that the scenery is painted gives the film a surreal kind of feel to it. “Surreal” is the word that I would use when talking about this film, but most people use the word “expressionism”.
Director: Robert Wiene
Werner Krauss … Dr. Caligari
Conrad Veidt … Cesare
Friedrich Feher … Francis
Lil Dagover … Jane
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski … Alan
Rudolf Lettinger … Dr. Olson