Two students go to a carnival, where they run afoul of a sinister mesmerist and his somnambulistic slave, who commits murders at his master's command. One of the students is killed, and the other's girlfriend is abducted.
But this is only the beginning of the plot convolutions in Robert Wiene's 1919 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In this mad-doctor melodrama elevated to the stature of expressionistic nightmare masterwork through its experimental use of bizarrely unrealistic sets and cinematography, nothing is as it initially appears to be.
Although the film's designs--by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Rshrig--and its acting can seem somewhat heavy-handed--even comical--to the modern viewer, there's no denying the influence of this German classic on generations of filmmakers' efforts to generate a state of cinematic delirium. Every student of film ought to see Caligari at least once.
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The lead actor, Werner Krauss, became a major stage star under the Nazis with his anti-Semitic portrayal of Shylock. More appealingly, Conrad Veidt, who played the hapless somnambulist Cesare, fled the Nazis and then played them, witheringly, in American films of the WW II era--Veidt is the "Major Strasser" that Bogey shoots at the end of Casablanca.
A screening of Caligari continues Movie Tuesdays, the film discussion series hosted by Fred Linch, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 12, in the first-floor story room of the Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 North Central.
Upcoming editions of the series include "The Western As Masterpiece" (with Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch) on Tuesday, February 2; Peckinpah's The Getaway on Tuesday, February 9; "She's My Hero" (an exploration of cinematic heroines) on Tuesday, March 2; the Tracy-Hepburn comedy Woman of the Year on Tuesday, March 9; a look at Ingmar Bergman's films on Tuesday, April 6; a look at Hong Kong action cinema on Tuesday, May 4; the great Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx on Tuesday, May 11; "Isn't It Romantic?" (an examination of dark-toned movie romance) on Tuesday, June 1; and the wonderful Bette Davis Southern-Gothic Jezebel on Tuesday, June 8. Admission is free. 534-0603.
--M. V. Moorhead