One of the great gems of German Expressionism. A fundamental film for understanding silent cinema.

Francis and his friend Alan, who are good-naturedly competing for Jane's affections, plan to visit the town fair. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Dr. Caligari seeks a permit from the town council to present a spectacle at the fair, which features a somnambulist named Cesare. That night, the clerk is found stabbed to death in his bed.

The next morning, Francis and Alan visit Caligari's spectacle, where he opens a coffin-like box to reveal the sleeping Cesare. On Caligari's order, Cesare awakens and answers questions from the audience. Alan asks, "How long shall I live?" To Alan's horror, Cesare answers, "The time is short. You die at dawn!".

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, both of whom were pacifists by the time they met following World War I. Janowitz and Mayer are said to have set out to write a story denouncing arbitrary authority as brutal and insane. The film they wrote was entitled Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, using the English spelling Cabinet rather than the German “Kabinett”. The completed script contained 141 scenes. Janowitz has claimed the name Caligari, which was not settled upon until after the script was finished, was inspired by a rare book called Unknown Letters of Stendhal, which featured a letter from the French novelist Stendhal referring to a French officer named Caligari he met at the La Scala theatre in Milan. 

Many details about the making of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are in dispute and will probably remain unsettled due to the large number of people involved in the making of the film, many of whom have recalled it differently or dramatized their own contributions to its production. Production of the film was delayed about four or five months after the script was purchased. Janowitz claims he attempted to commission the sets from designer and engraver Alfred Kubin, known for his heavy use of light and shadow to create a sense of chaos, but Kubin declined to participate in the project because he was too busy. In a conflicting story, however, Janowitz claimed he requested from Decla "Kubin paintings", and that they misread his instructions as "cubist painters". The set design, costumes and props took about two weeks to prepare. The collaborative nature of the film's production highlights the importance that both screenwriters and set designers held in German cinema of the 1920s. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was the first German Expressionist film, although Brockmann and film critic Mike Budd claim it was also influenced by German Romanticism; film scholar Vincent LoBrutto said the theatre of Max Reinhardt and the artistic style of Die Brücke were additional influences on Caligari.

The visual style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is dark, twisted and bizarre; radical and deliberate distortions in perspective, form, dimension and scale create a chaotic and unhinged appearance. The sets are dominated by sharp-pointed forms and oblique and curving lines, with narrow and spiraling streets, and structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, giving the impression they could collapse or explode at any given moment. Film critic Roger Ebert described it as "a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows, staircases climbing crazy diagonals, trees with spiky leaves, grass that looks like knives".

Though often considered an art film by some modern critics and scholars, Caligari was produced and marketed the same way as a normal commercial production of its time period, able to target both the elite artistic market as well as a more commercial horror genre audience. The film was marketed extensively leading up to the release, and advertisements ran even before the film was finished.  Caligari is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, and by far the most famous example of it. It is considered a classic film, often shown in introductory film courses, film societies and museums, and is one of the most famous German films from the silent era. Film scholar Lewis Jacobs called it the "most widely discussed film of the time". Caligari helped draw worldwide attention to the artistic merit of German cinema, while also bringing legitimacy to the cinema among literary intellectuals within Germany itself. While few other purely Expressionist films were made, Caligari still had a major influence over other German directors, and many of the film's Expressionist elements – particularly the use of setting, light and shadow to represent the dark psychology of its characters – became prevalent in German cinema. Caligari and German Expressionism heavily influenced the American film noir period of the 1940s and '50s, both in visual style and narrative tone.

Caligari helped draw worldwide attention to the artistic merit of German cinema, while also bringing legitimacy to the cinema among literary intellectuals within Germany itself. 

The Soundtrack

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was premiered during the first year of Caspervek's career, in autumn 2014 in Vigo. Subsequently, the score was also premiered in Klaipeda, Lithuania and in Conde Duque, Madrid, in one of Caspervek's largest concerts.

In 2020, Brais González undertook a revision and expansion of the soundtrack, presenting a new score for quintet (violin, clarinet, cello, piano, percussion) which was premiered during the CURTAS Fest in Vilagarcía de Arousa. The new score makes use of some of the original themes but creates an intricate structure of leitmotifs that accompany the entire film, which is close to the German music of the period.


  • Original title

    Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

  • Director

    Robert Wiene

  • Writer

    Carl Mayer
    Hans Janowitz

  • Runtime

    77 min

  • Year


  • Country


  • Company

    Decla Film

  • Genre

    Horror. Thriller. Expressionism


Werner Krauss

Conrad Veidt

Friedrich Feher

Lil Dagover

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