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October 25, 2006

The Cabinet of Caligari


Roger Kay - 1962
20th Century Fox Region 1 DVD

Based on the reputation of the original Dr. Caligari, I had wanted to see this 1962 remake in its initial release. Thankfully, my mother convinced me to see Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters instead. I did see Robert Wiene's film about seven years later as part of my first official film history class. Those kooky sets are great, but I never really liked The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a film. Still, once again, curiousity got the better of me, and I finally saw the remake on DVD.

Roger Kay's version uses a slight variation of the title, but his Caligari is a hectoring, mysterious therapist who seems to be holding Glynis Johns prisoner against her will. Only near the end, during the promised "nerve-shattering thirteen minutes" do we see anything that slightly resembles Herman Warm's settings. This second Caligari has more in common with Psycho and the films of William Castle with its psychological concerns. This visual links to German Expressionism almost seem coincidental.

Opening the film with a scene of a woman driving alone, finding herself trapped in the only house visible from a lonely road, screenwriter Robert Bloch seems to be borrowing from himself. The cinematographer for this second Caligari is John L. Russell, whose previous film was, yes, Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock spent some time in Germany, so whatever expressionism is displayed in his films was from direct learning at UFA. Glynis Johns is no Janet Leigh, and though she has virtues as an actress, being seductive is not one of them.

That may have been the point once the film arrives at its "twist" ending. The attitude towards women by this revised Caligari is misogynistic. Roger Kay and Robert Bloch's conclusion it that there is no greater horror than to be a middle-aged woman.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 25, 2006 10:45 AM