Sunday, June 01, 2008

Movie review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

German expressionist silent film about carnival sideshowman Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his act: the "somnambulist" (sleepwalker) Cesare (Conrad Veigt). Caligari claims that he can cause Cesare to predict the future, which he does with deadly accuracy.

Carnival visitor Francis (Friedrich Feher) and his girlfriend Jane (Lil Dagover) suspect that Caligari is making Cesare do more than just tell fortunes. They start to believe Cesare is behind a series of local murders.

The film has the distorted, angular sets and overdramatic make-up of German expressionism that creates an eerie atmosphere. There are fewer of the wide gestures of silent film. In fact, the film has fairly subtle acting for the time period. Caligari is played as an obviously suspicious character, but the real standout in the film is Cesare. I think the costume and make-up for Johnny Scissorhands must have been based on him.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has an infamous surprise ending. It was probably even more shocking in its day, but modern audiences will still be taken aback. It's also one of the earliest films to feature its storytelling in flashback.

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