The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Directed by Robert Wiene
Produced by Rudolf Meinert
Erich Pommer
Written by Hans Janowitz
Carl Mayer
Starring Werner Krauss
Conrad Veidt
Friedrich Fehér
Lil Dagover
Hans Twardowski
Music by Giuseppe Becce
Cinematography Willy Hameister
Distributed by Decla-Bioscop (Germany)
Goldwyn Distributing Company (US)
Release date(s) Germany:
February 26, 1920
United States:
March 19, 1921
Running time 71 minutes
Country Germany
Language Silent film
German intertitles
Budget DEM 20,000 (estimated)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari) is a 1920 silent horror film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films and is often considered one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era. This movie is cited as having introduced the twist ending in cinema.



Still from the film.

The deranged Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare (Conrad Veidt) are connected to a series of murders in a German mountain village, Holstenwall. Caligari introduces the main narrative using a frame story in which most of the plot is presented as a flashback, as told by Francis (one of the earliest examples of a frame story in film).

The narrator, Francis (Friedrich Fehér), and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) visit a carnival in the village where they see Dr. Caligari and the somnambulist Cesare, whom the doctor is displaying as an attraction. Caligari hawks that Cesare can answer any question he is asked. When Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, Cesare tells Alan that he will die before dawn tomorrow – a prophecy which is fulfilled.

Francis, along with his betrothed Jane (Lil Dagover), investigates Caligari and Cesare, which eventually results in Cesare kidnapping Jane. Caligari orders Cesare to kill Jane, but the hypnotized slave refuses after her beauty captivates him. He carries Jane out of her house, leading the townsfolk on a lengthy chase. Cesare dies of exhaustion after discarding Jane at the end of the pursuit, and the townsfolk discover that Caligari had created a dummy of Cesare to distract Francis.

Francis discovers that "Caligari" is actually the director of the local insane asylum, and, with the help of his colleagues, discovers that he is obsessed with the story of a monk called Caligari, who, in 1703, visited towns in northern Italy and used a somnambulist to murder people in a similar fashion. After being confronted with the dead Cesare, Caligari reveals his mania and is imprisoned in his asylum.

A "twist ending" reveals that Francis' flashback is actually his fantasy: he, Jane and Cesare are all inmates of the insane asylum, and the man he says is Caligari is his asylum doctor, who, after this revelation of the source of his patient's delusion, says that now he will be able to cure Francis.



  • Rudolf Klein-Rogge – Criminal
  • Hans Lanser-Rudolf – Old man
  • Henri Peters-Arnolds – Young doctor
  • Ludwig Rex – Murderer
  • Elsa Wagner – Landlady


Writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer met each other in Berlin soon after World War I. The two men considered the new film medium as a new type of artistic expression – visual storytelling that necessitated collaboration between writers and painters, cameramen, actors, directors. They felt that film was the ideal medium through which to both call attention to the emerging pacifism in postwar Germany and exhibit radical anti-bourgeois art.[1]

Although neither had associations with any Berlin film company, they decided to develop a plot. As both were enthusiastic about Paul Wegener's works, they chose to write a horror film. The duo drew from past experiences. Janowitz had disturbing memories of a night during 1913, in Hamburg. After leaving a fair he had walked into a park bordering the Holstenwall and glimpsed a stranger as he disappeared into the shadows after having mysteriously emerged from the bushes. The next morning, a young woman's ravaged body was found. Mayer was still angered about his sessions during the war with an autocratic, highly ranked, military psychiatrist.[1]

At night, Janowitz and Mayer would often go to a nearby fair. One evening, they saw a sideshow "Man and Machine", in which a man did feats of strength and predicted the future while supposedly in a hypnotic trance. Inspired by this, Janowitz and Mayer devised their story that night and wrote it in the following six weeks. The name "Caligari" came from a book Mayer read, in which an officer named Caligari was mentioned.[1]

When the duo approached producer Erich Pommer about the story, Pommer tried to have them thrown out of his small Decla-Bioscop studio. But when they insisted on telling him their film story, Pommer was so impressed that he bought it on the spot, and agreed to have the film produced in expressionistic style, partly as a concession to his studio only having a limited quota of power and light.[1]


Lobby Card of Doctors examining Cesare

Pommer put Caligari in the hands of designer Hermann Warm and painters Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, whom he had met as a soldier while painting sets for a German military theater. When Pommer began to have second thoughts about how the film should be designed, they had to convince him that it made sense to paint lights and shadows directly on set walls, floors, background canvases and to place flat sets behind the actors.[1]

Pommer first approached Fritz Lang to direct this film, but he was committed to work on Die Spinnen (The Spiders),[1] so Pommer gave directorial duties to Robert Wiene. Wiene filmed a test scene to prove Warm, Reimann, and Röhrig's theories, and it was so impressive that Pommer gave his artists free rein. Janowitz, Mayer, and Wiene would later use the same artistic methods on another production, Genuine, which was less successful commercially and critically.[1]

The producers, who wanted a less macabre ending imposed upon the director the idea that everything turns out to be Francis's delusion. In so doing, they produced the first cinematographic representation of altered mental states, similar to sensory distortions produced by recreational drugs.[2] The original story made it clear that Caligari and Cesare were real and were responsible for a number of deaths.[3]

Filming took place during December 1919, and January 1920. The film premiered at the Marmorhaus in Berlin on February 26, 1920.[4]


Critics worldwide have praised the film for its Expressionist style, complete with wild, distorted set design. Caligari has been cited as an influence on Film noir, one of the earliest horror films, and a model for directors for many decades.

Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler (1947) postulates that the film can be considered as an allegory for German social attitudes in the period following World War I. He argues that the character of Caligari represents a tyrannical figure, to whom the only alternative is social chaos (represented by the fairground).[5]

However, in Weimar Cinema and After, Thomas Elsaesser describes the legacy of Kracauer's work as a "historical imaginary".[6] Elsaesser argues that Kracauer had not studied enough films to make his thesis about the social mindset of Germany legitimate and that the discovery and publication of the original screenplay of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari undermines his argument about the revolutionary intent of its writers. Elsaesser's alternative thesis is that the filmmakers adopted an Expressionist style as a method of product differentiation, establishing a distinct national product against the increasing importation of American films. Dietrich Scheunemann, somewhat in defense of Kracauer, noted that he didn't have "the full range of materials at (his) disposal". However, that fact "has clearly and adversely affected the discussion of the film", referring to the fact that the script of Caligari wasn't rediscovered until 1977 and that Kracauer hadn't seen the film for around 20 years when he wrote the work.[7]

Adaptations and musical works inspired by the film

According to Jean Cocteau, he was approached during the early 1930s by director Robert Wiene about playing "Cesare" in a sound remake, which was never made.[citation needed] In 1936, Bela Lugosi, while filming in England, was offered the part of "Caligari" in a sound remake, but returned to work in the U.S. During the 1940s, writer Hans Janowitz seemed close to selling his rights in a script to be directed by Fritz Lang, but neither that nor his plans for a sequel, Caligari II, came to fruition.

In 1991, the film was loosely remade as The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez by director and writer Peter Sellars. The production included significant development during filming, leading the primary actors to also receive writing credits (Mikhail Baryshnikov, who played "Cesar"; Joan Cusack, who played "Cathy"; Peter Gallagher, who played "Matt", and Ron Vawter, who played "Dr. Ramirez"). This remake was an experimental film that was screened only at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and never theatrically released.[8] Like the original film, it was silent with only intertitles and a musical score.

The 1990 film Edward Scissorhands used the aesthetics of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in creating the look for the main character of Edward Scissorhands.

The film was adapted into an opera in 1997 by composer John Moran. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a production by Robert McGrath.[9]

Also, during 1997, playwright Susan Mosakowski adapted it to drama, performed at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club.

Numerous musicians have composed new musical scores to accompany the film. The Club Foot Orchestra premiered the score penned by ensemble founder and artistic director Richard Marriott in 1987.[10] During 1994, jazz bassist Mark Dresser led pianist Denman Maroney and trumpeter Dave Douglas in his compositions for the film, which they performed live at the Knitting Factory and released on CD in 1994. The British electronica band In the Nursery created an ambient soundtrack for the film, which was released on CD in 1996. In 2000, the Israeli Electronica group TaaPet made several live performances of their soundtrack for the film around Israel.[11] These were recorded, edited, and released as TaaPet's second album for FACT Records. Rainer Viertlböck composed a new score for the restored version that is available from Transit Film. In 2002, British musician and composer Geoff Smith composed a new soundtrack to the film for the hammered dulcimer, which he performed live as an accompaniment to the film. Also in 2002, Belgian musicians Thomas Desmet, Joris van Eeckhoven, Stefan Vanlokeren and Alexander Kerkhof formed the temporary band 'Caligari' and composed a complete score to the original film. Their effort was recorded by producer Pierre Vervloesem and performed during the International Film Festival of Flanders in Ghent and some other occasions.[12] During 2006, Peruvian rock group Kinder composed a soundtrack to the film, performing it live during the screenings at "El Cinematógrafo", a film club in the district of Barranco. The composer Lynne Plowman wrote a score that was toured by the London Mozart Players in Wales during April and May 2009.

In 1981, Bill Nelson was asked by the Yorkshire Actors Company to create a soundtrack for a stage adaptation of the movie. That music was later recorded for his 1982 album Das Kabinet (The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari).

A radio version is published by Blackstone Audio featuring John de Lancie as "Franz", Tony Jay as "Caligari", Jane Carr, Robertson Dean, Kaitlin Hopkins, James Otis, and Lorna Raver, written, produced and directed by Yuri Rasovsky.

On October 26, 2008, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a dramatization entitled Caligari, adapted from the film by Amanda Dalton and directed by Susan Roberts. According to the description on the BBC Radio 3 web site, "[Ms. Dalton's] adaptation builds on the film's themes: the madness of society, the inner workings of the human mind and the paranoia of a country in the aftermath of a war." The cast included Tom Ferguson as "Franzis", Luke Treadaway as "Allan", Sarah McDonald Hughes as "Jane" and Robin Blaze as "Cesare".

In 2005, the Chicago-based Redmoon Theater performed a Bunraku adaptation of the film. The only dialogue throughout the 80 minute production was the thoughts of Cesare as played through a Victor Talking Machine at the base of the stage. The stage was made up of many small stages, each being a drawer or cupboard in a large cabinet.

A film with a very similar title, The Cabinet of Caligari, written by Robert Bloch, was made in 1962, claimed to be inspired by the original film.

A sound remake, directed by David Lee Fisher, was released in 2005 and won several awards at horror film festivals. It attempted to reproduce the look of the original film as closely as possible, and the backdrops used in the remake were digitally enhanced backdrops from the original film.[citation needed]

The final episode of the children's television series Count Duckula, titled "The Zombie Awakes", is a parody of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. A mad psychologist, named Dr. Quackbrain sends a somnambulist named Morpheus to bring Duckula to Quackbrain's castle, which is designed inside and out with the same extreme lights, shadows, angles and shapes characteristic of Caligari's expressionist style.

There is strong influence of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on the concept of the 2009 fantasy film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, by Terry Gilliam as well as on the book Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane on which the eponymous movie by Martin Scorsese is based. Scorsese was surprised that Lehane hadn't seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari whose story has many similarities with that of Shutter Island .[13]

Comic books

Jean-Marc Lofficier wrote Superman's Metropolis, a trilogy of graphic novels for DC Comics illustrated by Ted McKeever, the second of which was entitled Batman: Nosferatu, most of the plot derived from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Caligari himself appears as a member of Die Zwielichthelden (The Twilight Heroes), a German mercenary group in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Also, in The Sandman issue "Calliope" written by Neil Gaiman and pencilled by Kelley Jones, a character, Richard Madoc, writes a book "The Cabaret of Dr. Caligari", an obvious pseudonym.

Musical references

The name 'Caligari' has been used extensively in popular music. Pere Ubu has a song entitled "Caligari's Mirror". Goth rock group Bauhaus used a still of Cesare from the film on early t-shirts for their popular single "Bela Lugosi's Dead". The band Abney Park has a cut "The Secret Life of Dr. Calgari" on their album Lost Horizons (released 2008).

The 1998 music video for Rob Zombie's single "Living Dead Girl" restaged several scenes from the film, with Zombie in the role of Caligari beckoning to the fair attendees. In addition to artificially imitating the poor image quality of aged film, the video also made use of the expressionistic sepia, aqua, and violet tinting used in Caligari. The film also inspired imagery in the video for "Forsaken" (2002), from the soundtrack for the film Queen of the Damned.

Hard rock group Rainbow used the film as inspiration for the music video to "Can't Let You Go", a single from their 1983 album Bent Out Of Shape, vocalist Joe Lynn Turner being made up as Cesare. The director was Dominic Orlando. The video for Coldplay's "Cemeteries of London" included clips from the film. The video for the song "Otherside" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers off the album Californication, briefly used the film as a reference to its visuals.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 48–51. ISBN 0-671-64810-1. 
  2. ^ Giannini, A. J. (1999). Drug Abuse. Los Angeles, Health Information Press. p. 238. ISBN 1-885987-11-0
  3. ^ White, Rob; Buscombe, Edward (2003). British Film Institute film classics. 1. Routledge. pp. 2–4. ISBN 1-57958-328-8. 
  4. ^ Robinson, David (1997). Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari. British Film Institute. p. 47. 
  5. ^ Kracauer, Siegfried (2004 edition; 1947, original English translation). From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film. Princeton University Press. 
  6. ^ Elsaesser, Thomas (2000). Weimar Cinema and After: Germany's Historical Imaginary. Routledge. 
  7. ^ Scheunemann, Dietrich (2003). "The Double, the Decor, the Framing Device: Once More on Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". In Scheunemann, Dietrich. Expressionist Films: New Perspectives. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 1-57113-068-3. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari multimedia theatre piece.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ He was shocked that I'd never seen the "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," which he was sure was an influence

Further reading

External links

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