Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 7th, 2017
Theatrical Release Date: Germany, 1920
Director: Robert Wiene
Writers: Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettingerte, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Ludwig Rex
BluRay released: January 16th, 2017
Approximate running times: 77 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: U (UK)
Sound: LPCM 5.1 Surround with original German intertitles, LPCM Stereo with original German intertitles
BluRay Release: Eureka Video
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £19.99 (UK)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was directed by Robert Wiene who’s other notable films include, Genuine, The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Crime and Punishment (1923). Key collaborators on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari include, screenwriter Carl Meyer (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The Blue Light) and producer Erich Pommer (Varieté, Spies, The Blue Angel).
Long before Horror cinema became a byproduct predominately geared towards the youth. There were films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari that transcended all audience demographics. And when this film was originally released upon unsuspecting audiences it would set the gold standard for future Horror films with an eerie advertisement campaign which featured lines like, “You must become Caligari.”
To fully appreciate this film one must fully put into context when it was made. Germany was going through a massive change after World War I and with change they had just formed a new republic. And this would lead to a creative freedom that would produce some of the most iconic and memorable films to ever grace the silver screen. With some of the notable films from this era known as German Expressionism being, The Golem: How He Came into the World, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, The Last Laugh, Metropolis and M.
To say that the narrative and the way things unfold are told in an unconventional way would be an understatement. The film begins with a scene with two men sitting on a bench and one of the men tells the other men a story about a man named Dr. Caligari. From there the film shifts to the story that is being told by the man and when he gets to the end of his tell that is when the narrative then makes you question all you have seen to that point. To reveal much more would spoil this film’s climax for those who have yet to see it.
From a production stand point, this is film that excels in every way. The visuals are filled with surreal imagery that reinforces the symbolism and social commentary which lurks beneath its surface. Stand out moments include, a scene where Caesar abducts a woman while Francis (this film’s narrator) watches Dr. Caligari as he guards Caesar who sleeps in a box next to him. Another standout moment includes, the aforementioned finale which provides a very satisfying conclusion to the events which have just unfolded.
Performance wise the cast all good in their respective roles. With this film’s standout performance coming from Friedrich Feher in the role of Francis. He delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of man who sanity is push to the edge. Other notable performances include, Werner Krauss (Tartuffe, Henrik Galeen’s The Man Who Cheated Life) in the role of Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt (Dark Journey, Casablanca), in the role of Dr. Caligari’s sleeping walking assassin Cesare.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari comes on a 50 GB dual layer (34.4 GB) BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The transfer for this HD release was sourced from the extensive Frederich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation restoration and for a film of this vintage this transfer looks great. Source damage is minimal and the image remains stable throughout. The image looks crisp and there are no issues with compression.
This release comes with two audio options, a LPCM 5.1 Surround with original German intertitles and a LPCM Stereo audio mix with German Intertitles. Included with this release are removable English subtitles. Both audio mixes sound, clean, clear, balanced and robust.
Extras on disc one include, a theatrical rerelease trailer for the film (1 minute 29 seconds), three featurettes about this film’s restoration (total running time – 8 minutes 47 seconds, in German with English subtitles), an visually essay titled You Must Become Caligari with film critic David Cairns (15 minutes 38 seconds), a documentary titled Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War (52 minutes 53 seconds, in German with English subtitles) and an audio commentary with film historian David Kalat.
Topics discussed in the extra titled You Must Become Caligari include, the film’s production history and an analysis of the film.
Topics discussed in the extra titled Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War include, the film’s original ad campaign, how the film was a box office and critical success, German Expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and its legacy, Robert Wiene, the cast, set design / look of the film and themes explored in the film Other topics include, the German film industry post World War I.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, the film’s legacy, screenwriters Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz and how they were disappointed with the changes made to their screenplay, production history and myths about the film, German expressionism, architecture / set design, Fritz Lang’s contributions to the film, how the screenplay differs from the film, director Robert Wiene, Arthouse cinema, audience reaction to the film and interpretations of the subject matter explored in the film.
Extras on disc two include, a documentary titled From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (118 minutes 23 seconds, in German with English subtitles).
Content wise, From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses is an insightful and detailed account about German Cinema during the Weimar Republic.
Rounding out the extras is a forty-four page booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H. Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery. Overall The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gets an exceptional release from Eureka Video of a silent era film, highly recommended.