CRITIQUE OF THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, and
directed by Robert Weine. It was produced in 1919 by Erich Pommer for Decla-Bioscop.
1919 was a year in which the movie industry was transformed into a giant industry.
Although the movie was produced in 1919, it was not released in the United States until
1921. A time when film makers were out to prove that film was indeed art. In the year
1921 525 films were released out of those 525, 50 still exist today, one of those 50 is The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. At the time of its release in America, horror films were virtually
unheard of because filmakers felt that the subject matter was tasteless or even repulsive,
not to mention difficult to adjust to the silent screen. The first horror film on record was
Frankenstein in 1910. Elements from Frankenstein are evident in The Cabinet of Dr.
When the demonic somnambulist Cesare creeps into Lil Dagover’s bedchamber, director
Robert Wiene was exploiting a fear common to us all. Prone and sleeping the woman is
uttlerly helpless. She is carried off into the expressionist labyrinth that Wiene used to
symbolize the darkest torments of the human mind and soul. A beautiful woman is carried
off by evil, a play on the Beauty and the Beast themes that would become so popular in
Used expressionism, films that explored dream, nightmare and psyche and that found their
narrative shape determined less by action than emotion. Used angular sets and heavy
shadows to develop a macabre and horrific atmosphere for its tale of murder and madness.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari intentionally uses sets that look artificial. The deliberate
distortions were meant to portray what a tormented soul might perceive. German
expressionism, known as dada, and surrealism rejected notions of reality, the German
expressionist movement, modern art was underway. Used tilted sets, and twisted
cardboard trees. Light and shadow were used to create a response, and get the viewer
Two films imported from Germany named Passion and Sumurun starring a popular actress
named Pola Negri opened the door for other German imports. The popularity of Negri
and Caligari combined helped to create a small art-house market.
The expressionistic style was widely distrusted at the time but even so was copied by
American directors looking to add European culture to their films. The style soon became
so well known that a spoof was made of Caligari in 1928 called The Life and Death of a
Hollywood Extra which is a tale about a Hollywood extra whose dreams of fame and
fortune are frustrated.
Caligari had a lot of effect on the content of future Hollywood movies. It’s influence can
be seen in later films such as The Bells (1925) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).