Friday, October 21, 2016

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) is the story of a hypnotist who orders a sleepwalker to kill people. Considered to be one of the first horror films ever made, the film is an exploration into what kind of power can drive a man to have another do his dastardly deeds. Starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, and Hans Twardowski. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a riveting and evocative film from Robert Wiene.

The film is a simple story about circus hypnotist who has a sleepwalker kill people for him as it is told by a man whose friend had been murdered. It’s largely told in a stylish fashion as it begins with a man named Francis (Friedrich Feher) telling his story to a man at a hospital as he and his fiancĂ©e Jane (Lil Dagover) are both recovering from what they experienced. There, the main narrative is told where Francis and his friend Alan (Hans Twardowski) go to the fair where they meet the titular character (Werner Krauss) who is performing a trick with his sleepwalker Cesare (Conrad Veidt) who would tell Alan an unsettling premonition. It would then set the tone for what would come as a series of mysterious murders happen in this small town as well as the mystery into who is killing them and such. The script would also have this air of suspense in what is going on while there is a sense of horror in a scene where a victim is killed but it’s really shown in shadows.

Robert Wiene’s direction is truly mesmerizing as it has these gorgeous compositions and imagery that is truly beautiful to look at. While there aren’t any camera movements and is shot entirely in the 1:33:1 aspect ratio which was typical in silent cinema. The compositions in the wide and medium shots do have this air of beauty in the world that Wiene shows as it is set in a small town in early 20th Century Germany while Wiene would also use medium shots and close-ups to play into some of the intimacy. Yet, he would create these compositions and moods into some of the images including a murder scene where it’s about what is not shown rather than what is shown. There are also these moments that are quite scary as Wiene create these moments that are eerie as it relates to the titular character as well as what he does. Plus, there’s a few twists and turns that add a lot to the film as it play into not just the identity of Dr. Caligari but also the idea off how men can be controlled in such ways to do evil. Overall, Wiene creates an ominous yet riveting film about a series of murders in the hands of a hypnotist.

Cinematographer Willy Hameister does excellent work with the cinematography where its usage of lighting, shadows, and shades help create a look for some of the interior scenes as well as in the exteriors. Art directors Walter Reimann, Walter Rohrig, and Hermann Warm do amazing work with the look of the sets including the backgrounds for the walls as well as the look of the sets which add to the film‘s unique visual language. Costume designer Walter Reimann does nice work with the clothes as it relates to the look of the titular character. The film’s music by Giuseppe Becce, with additional work by Timothy Brock for the 2014 restoration, is fantastic for its mixture of somber classical pieces to eerie organ-based music with woodwinds that help play into the suspense.

The film’s brilliant cast include some notable small roles from Elsa Wagner as a landlady who discovers a body, Rudolf Klein-Rogge as a criminal accused of the murders, Hans Lanser-Ludolff as the old man Francis tells the story to, and Rudolf Lettinger as Jane’s father Dr. Olsen. Hans Twardowski is terrific as Francis’ friend Alan who gets a chilling premonition while Lil Dagover is wonderful as their object of affection in Jane who would have an eerie encounter with Cesare. Friedrich Feher is fantastic as Francis as a young man who would try and investigate who has been doing the murders as he becomes personally connected to what is happening. Conrad Veidt is brilliant as Cesare in this eerie performance as a sleepwalker who is controlled to do Dr. Caligari’s bidding as it is a very scary performance to watch. Finally, there’s Werner Krauss in a spectacular performance as Dr. Caligari as this hypnotist who is in control of everything and the mastermind of these murders as it’s a very creepy performance from Krauss who goes all out and creates one of the great villains in horror.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a phenomenal film from Robert Wiene. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a brooding premise, and a majestic music soundtrack, the film isn’t just one of the defining films of German Expressionism but also a film that is still enchanting as it bear a lot of elements that would define the ideas of what horror films could be. In the end, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a sensational film from Robert Wiene.

© thevoid99 2016

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