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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

September 2, 2010

6. Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
Directed by Robert Wiene
Germany, 1919
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


~ WARNING: My review of this 91-year-old film may contain spoilers. ~

Francis tells the story of the murderous Dr. Caligari, who tours carnivals with his sleepwalking servant Cesare, leaving countless bodies in their wake. Francis is later revealed to be an unreliable narrator.

Essential Scene:

In probably the earliest “twist ending” in cinema, we see Francis, Jane and Cesare as inmates of the insane asylum. The Caligari figure is in fact a doctor, and the entire story merely Francis’ delusion.

We also discover that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, Verbal Kint is Keyser Söze and Soylent Green is made from people. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a prime example of German Expressionism, that most distinctive of visual styles. However I’m more enthusiastic about later works influenced by Expressionism, such as the bold shadows and jaunty camera angles of 1940s film noir. I’ll also admit to finding the twisty plot mildly confusing, especially since my brain seems to rely on voices to aid its face recognition system. A second viewing should be interesting, in due time.


Reviewed by Rachel
Second viewing since childhood

Essential Scene:

Francis (Friedrich Feher) and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) attend a carnival in their town, and soon come to a sideshow run by Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss). Inside, Caligari has a somnambulist by the name of Cesare (Conrad Veidt).

Francis, Alan and the rest of the crowd step inside the ‘cabinet’ and Dr. Caligari slowly opens an upstanding wooden crate. Inside is a thin and incredibly pale man.

Dr. Caligari (title cards): Cesare!!! Do you hear me?! Cesare, I am calling you. I, Dr. Caligari — your master! Awake for a moment — from your dark night…

Cesare follows his orders. His mouth slowly moves, his nostrils flare and he frowns as he begins to open his heavy eyelids. The make up on Cesare is quite simple but still fairly startling. The black circles under his eyes represent his ongoing torment, and you feel as if waking up is painful for him. When he has fully awakened he looks straight into the camera, his eyes wide with alarm. On Caligari’s command, Cesare walks slowly and stiffly out of his box.

Dr. Caligari (title cards): Ladies and gentlemen! Cesare, the Somnambulist, will answer all your questions.

Cesare knows every secret — He knows the past and sees the future — Judge for yourselves. Step right in…

Alan stands up, unable to resist asking a rather strange question; “How long do I have to live?” Cesare looks unwaveringly at Alan and responds; “’Till dawn tomorrow.”

He had to ask, didn’t he?


Like everyone else, the first thing that struck me with Caligari was the visuals. I think I must’ve been about 10 when I saw this for the first time at the National Film Theatre, and I hadn’t seen anything like it. The sets are obviously sets, the make up is obviously make up but that is why it is so brilliant. A whole eerie world is created with it’s stark, crooked buildings and dark, brooding shadows. It is proof that horror needn’t be blood and guts, that it can just simply be an uneasy journey into the human mind, aided by sinister surroundings.

Bit of film geek advice — If you like Tim Burton’s imagery, you’re gonna like this!

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 4:58 pm

    This is one of my favorite films. I recently composed a new soundtrack for the film on my blog.
    Thanks for the great post.
    Danny Hahn

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