review for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on AllMovie

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
by Jonathan Crow review

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a towering landmark film in cinematic history; it had a profound stylistic impact on much of German cinema before WWII, it was the progenitor of the moody chiaroscuro look of 1940s film noir, and, according to Siegfried Kracauer in his seminal book From Caligari to Hitler, it was a harbinger of the rise of Naziism. Originally scripted as a bizarre fever dream about the sick soul of Weimar Germany, Caligari had a prologue and epilogue added over the objections of screenwriters Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz that explained the tale as the ramblings of a madman. Though its political subtext may have been subordinated, its artistic achievements remained potent. Marked by off-kilter sets, lighting, and costumes, the visual style of Caligari brilliantly fuses into a seamless exterior projection of the narrator's demented interior state of mind. The acting is similarly stylized, featuring striking performances by Werner Krauss as the sinister Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as his somnambulist plaything. The international success of Caligari spawned a series of Expressionistic films, including such prominent works as Der Golem (1920), Nosferatu (1922), and Metropolis (1927). Its canted grotesque look has proven a major influence on such diverse directors as Kenji Mizoguchi, Kenneth Anger, and Tim Burton. In spite of its age, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a hypnotic masterpiece that still manages to unnerve and provoke.