Greatest Film Scenes
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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Ger.)

In Robert Wiene's classic and influential silent film - with expressionist cinematography and distorted, jagged, angular sets; for its time, this German expressionistic, surrealistic fantasy/horror film was truly scary; it was also a landmark film that introduced many standard horror film conventions (some consider it the first true horror film), and one of the earliest examples of the 'twist ending'.

The shadowy, disturbing, distorted, and dream-nightmarish quality of the macabre and stylistic 'Caligari,' with curving alleyways, lopsided doors, cramped rooms, overhanging buildings, and skewed cityscapes, was brought to Hollywood in the 1920s, and later influenced the classic period of horror films in the 1930s, and also film-noirs.

  • the tale (the film's entire story) was told in flashback by Francis (Friedrich Feher) - it was a tale of the strange sufferings and horrible events that he had experienced
  • he told about a ghost-like, mad, and sinister hypnotist-therapist in a local carnival named Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss); Caligari was a fortune-teller who promoted his "spectacle" attraction at the fair with a life-sized poster
  • he performed a crowd-pleasing show with his pale-skinned, lanky, black leotard-wearing sleeping somnambulist named Cesare (Conrad Veidt); the main attraction for the group of fairgoers was to awaken Cesare from a state of sleep in a box-shaped coffin or cabinet, to prophetically tell fortunes to audience members

At Fair, Caligari Advertising Cesare With a Life-Sized Poster

With Cesare - Dr. Caligari's Sleeping Somnambulist in Coffin-Cabinet

Cesare's Eyes Opening From Sleep
  • Caligari also manipulated Cesare to conduct his evil desires, as a haunted murderer; the shadowy figure stabbed to death Francis' friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski)
  • in one of the more shocking sequences, the so-called "abduction scene," Francis' 'fiancee' Jane Olsen (Lil Dagover) was sleeping, when she was approached by the somnambulist with a long sharp knife who was threatening to stab her. Instead, he reached out to touch her and she was awakened. He grabbed her and dragged her from her bed to abduct her; a chase ensued by a mob across rooftops and down alleyways
Scary Abduction Sequence
  • the film's major plot twist was that the story, the entire film (a framed story with a flashback) was made up from the mad ramblings and delusional nightmares of Francis, the mentally-ill, psychotic patient who was the narrator/story-teller of the film while he was seated in the asylum courtyard; the last scene was of Francis becoming crazed when he saw the asylum director Dr. Caligari - whom he insisted was the mad and sinister "Caligari" of his story. Francis thought that Dr. Caligari was the insane director of a mental institution, and that he was obsessed with imitating a 18th century mystic (of the same name) who sent out his somnambulist Cesare to commit murder; however Dr. Caligari was not a menacing figure, but Francis' benevolent, respected asylum doctor.

Francis (Friedrich Feher) Telling His Tale, Seated in Courtyard

Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss)

Dr. Caligari

Twist Ending -- Francis Was The Insane One

Dr. Caligari - The Respected Asylum Director with His Patient Francis


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