Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Director: Robert Wiene
Starring: Werner Kraub, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger

A young engaged man known as Francis (Feher) sits on a bench explaining his long ordeal to an disillusioned elderly man. The story takes us to Holstenwall, where Francis and his best-friend Alan (Twardowski) vie for the affection of Jane (Dagover). A mysterious figure calling himself Dr. Caligari (Kraub) arrives in town seeking a permit to present a 'Spectacle' at the fair known as Cesare (Veidt), a somnambulist - a condition where he is constantly asleep - who is woken by Caligari to answer questions of the past and future.

One of the first and considered the quintessential of the German Expressionist era, this incredible film lays intact as one of the most influential films of the silent era, not only impacting later German productions but heavily influencing Universal Studios monster films of the 30's. Writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer initially set out to make a politically-driven story, which is still evident, however the tone of authoritarianism takes over thanks to the vision of Wiene and unbilled help from master director Fritz Lang.

Krauss and Veidt's chilling portrayals of Calgari and his monster Cesare has forever been duplicated, but the presence Krauss has makes for a devilish time. Feher's somewhat overdramatic performance suits the time; Feher was actually a successful film director at the time. All the cast continued acting with varying degrees of success; Nazi party member Kraub was banned from performing after their defeat while Veidt fled Nazi Germany and had great success in Britain and later in Hollywood, appearing in Casablanca.

The most consuming elements of the film are the theme of sanity which is portrayed by the one-of-a-kind production design from Hermann Warm (Destiny, The Passion of the Joan of Arc, Vampyr). Surrounding the set with sharp designs and creations is the stuff of a film fanatics dream. This amazing cult classic may show its age in some areas but has much to admire and inspire anyone.

4.5/5

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