I assume that "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari", a black-and-white (although sometimes more like yellow-and-white) movie under 80 minutes from 1920, would make actually more sense if you read the description of what it is in detail about before watching it. This, however, is not the purpose of a movie and sometimes it is difficult to really understand what is going on from the camera action and intertitles (that surely could have been more frequent, especially given the fact how people are seen constantly talking in here) and that is why overall I hesitate a bit in saying that this is a good movie. I shall still be generous eventually with my recommendation despite the quality going considerably south in the second half. Well.. let's see. We have a man who presents a somnambulist named Cesare at a fair. Briefly afterwards, we find out that somebody is murdered and apparently this is just the beginning of a crime series. The film consists of 6 acts, all of them not too long as, like I stated earlier, this is not a lengthy film by any means, and the first problem is that the same action from the end of act one is repeated at the beginning of act two. Why? Obviously Cesare is not only a somnambulist, but also a fortune teller, or I should say misfortune teller as he predicts that a man will get killed by sunrise. Which happens and makes it easier for the good guy to close in on dating the girl he wants. Okay this is not 1920 language, but you know what I mean. Still also kinda funny, they were pretty sure that she would take one of them. Had the pursuit been at a more advanced stage, I would have wondered why nobody considered the main guy to be the killer. Anyway, back to the other side of the law: The professor who presented Cesare is somehow creepy and funny in a strange way at the same time, although I am sure he was not meant to be funny by director Wiene for whom this is definitely the most known career effort. Same is true for the duo of writers Mayer and janowitz, even if the former also worked on Murnau's Oscar-winning Sunrise, another film considered a silent movie classic nowadays. But back to this one here: Another problem one could have with the film is the overacting. For the most part, they got away with it though I'd say, especially the title character, because it emphasizes his creepiness and insanity, but in terms of the good guy and his fear I struggled here and there. He should have showed more subtlety. On a positive note, there may be no sound, but still it's not necessary at all to make the story heard.
And then there is a guy who gets killed. But it seems he only wanted to frame the actual killer? So he is innocent, sort of. There I wondered, however, how he really disappears from the picture after he says that it was not him with the first two murders. Everybody believed him right away? With how relentless they chased him down when he was about to attack the old lady? And why did even even commit that he had the intention to kill her? He always could have said he only wanted to burgle the place or so. On a completely different note, the somnambulist (played by the wonderful Conrad Veidt in maybe his most famous performance, but far from his best) looks a bit like a thinner version of Frankenstein by the way. We see him approach a sleeping girl and he abducts her with a knife. But they manage to free her and she identifies Cesare as the one who did it. However, Cesare has been guarded and sleeping all the time, so it's impossible isn't it? Finally the action switches to an insane asylum and there is more to the professor it seems than we saw earlier as he seems to be the director. Anyway, it got way too confusing at this point to understand. obviously the sleeping Cesare was just a dummy or so. Nobody recognized this when he apparently killed people in other cities? And there is a love story and in the end thee is some kind of strange twist about who is actually insane and who isn't. I myself understood it that the entire thing was really just from the mind of the narrator. He is not the good guy helping to solve the murders, but he is an inmate of an insane asylum (hello Shutter Island) telling us (and the other guy) a story that has nothing to do with reality. He uses things and people he sees to include them in the story (hello Usual Suspercts). Best example would be the girl She is played by Lil Dagover by the way, so a pretty epctacular cast we have here. As for the cast, one final notion: Werner Krauss, the man who played Professor Caligari was only in his mid-30s at that point. Not unusual at all during the early 20th century that they did not cast old actors, but younger ones and made them look old. Caligari, fittingly with the title, was my favorite character here I'd say. But it comes pretty easily because there is not that much to everybody else. The good guy is not written too well, the girl has too little screen time and Cesare is not defining either. It's all about Caligari. Yet, at the same time, there are flaws to this character too. When we see this scene "You must become Caligari!", it is considered somewhat epic with his delucions being visualized as words, but it would have helped had we known who he was before Caligari and also why Caligari specifically. Why he is basically treated like a myth, for example when we read that he wants to penetrate into Caligari's secret. The playful letter style is sometimes almost more interesting than the words itself. They are acting as if this is some epic character from history while I must say I have never heard the name before. Also the good doctor in his beardless form as the head of the insane asylum in the end apparently also knows who Caligari is right away and now he also knows how he has to treat the narrator to help him lose his delusions? I guess this movie is also not exactly a revelation from the medical point of view. No need to further go into detail here. Some of it really made very little sense and honestly, this one is way closer all in all for me to a weak film than to a great film, but I will still say it is a good film because until the point where Cesare abducts the girl and is caught and before the action moves away from the town, it is a pretty decent crime movie. There are weaknesses there too like the entire concept of somnabulism depicted here in a way as if it was the same as hypnotism and also for example the exaggerated 26-year (was it this number?) Sleeping "Beauty" reference, but those were easy to ignore thanks to the good moments. At least in the first 30-40 minutes. And I also thought visually it is a fine film, in terms of make-up and art direction and sets most of all. These deformed houses and equally deformed windows are (next to Caligari) probably the very best thing about this movie and still kinda epic today. Funnily I just saw those pretty recently at Babelsberg where the film was made over a century ago. Yep, this one has its 100th anniversary this year, that's how old it is. Maybe one reason why they are showing it in theaters again now (aside from many considering it a defining film) and I got the chance yesterday to see it there on the big screen with an organ player providing the music. Nice experience for sure, even if I must say I still don't think it is good enough to be considered a classic and I probably never will, but I know many see it this way. I think it could have been better, especially given the excellent cast Wiene had at his disposal here. Klein-Rogge too, haven't mentioned him yet because his role is minimal. Time to finish. I give it a cautious thumbs-up. Positively recommended.
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