Monday, 6 October 2014

Film Review - The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

"Warped in all senses, fascinating and bizarre ..." Peter Bradshaw, Rotten Tomatoes (2014)
Fig.1. "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920) Film Poster

Robert Weine's "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920) is a strange, twisted silent film that includes one of cinema's first plot twists. The unique setting of the film compliments it's mystical story. The story features a deranged "doctor", in the form of Dr Caligari, who tries to fool the people of Hostenwall into believing that Cesare the Somnambulist can tell the future. Although, all isn't as it seems.

Fig.2. Dr Caligari in street - "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920)

The film stays away from using the simple/real cities, that we are used to seeing in today's big films, and instead uses an abstract building style, that looks like it's drawn on a large white board. Although by today's standards it would seem cheap, but it very much runs parallel with the film's equally abstract story-line and characters. This style can also be shown on the characters, as certain body/face details look drawn on. This is evident in Dr Caligari, himself, as lines on his face and eye-shadow have been drawn on his face in order to make him look even more scary and threatening in a black and white film.The settings darkness and lack of light gives the viewer a clear understanding that something is wrong and that there is something that the characters do not know about Dr Caligari and his Somnambulist. "The first thing everyone notices and best remembers about "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920) is the film's bizarre look" - Roger Ebert review

Fig.3. Cesare holding girl - "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920)

It later becomes clear in the film that something is very much wrong and the characters are in danger from Dr Caligari and Cesare. The Doctor uses his "sleeping puppet" to carry out his request, when Cesare is in a state of unawareness. Cesare is able to be controlled in any way. This remarkable level of control is quite abstract, in itself, which obviously ties in with it's strange setting and characters. At this stage of the film. the scenes get even more dark and so create a feeling of tension and fear. Weine's use of light in the film is extraordinary as he uses very little of it in the darkest of moments.

Fig.3. Cesare on the roof - "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920) 

Above is one of the most memorable scenes of the film, and is now one of cinema's most iconic scenes.There is very little light is this scene and it makes the viewer believe that something bad is about to happen to the girl that Cesare is holding. The fact that they were able to get a man on the roof, in a scene, in a film from the early 20th Century is quite remarkable. Weise's use of perspective in this scene makes you focus on Cesare, and Cesare alone. The viewer doesn't watch this looking at the rooftops...They're watching Dr. Caligari's "sleeping puppet".

"...lay down a template for today's scary movies, noirs and psychological thrillers" - The Guardian (2014), "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" Film Review

Illustration List:
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Movie Poster-

Dr Caligari in street. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - (Accessed 06/10/2014)

Cesare holding girl. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - (Accessed 06/10/2014)

Cesare on the roof. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) - (Accessed 06/10/2014)

Bradshaw, Peter (2014) The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Review - (Accessed 06/10/2014)

Ebert, Roger (2009). The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Review - (Accessed 06/10/2014)

The Guardian (2014).  The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) Review - (Accessed 06/10/2014)


  1. Hi Dan,

    Have a look back at my previous comment re. your use of quotes. It is important that the quotes are properly embedded in your writing, so you need to introduce them and then 'unpick' them. Your last quote, for example, is floating there a bit aimlessly at the moment... One way to introduce them is to use the author's name, so you could say for example, 'As Roger Ebert states in his review....' Always try and find the actual author for the piece if you can - it's not always possible, and in those instances, you would be right to use the name of the paper or book. The Guardian review that you have used, was written by Peter Bradshaw, for example.

  2. Hi Jackie.
    Ok, thank you, I'll try to work on that. I must admit, I find it a bit of a challenge using quotes in a film review.