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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (original title)
Unrated | | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery | 19 March 1921 (USA)
Hypnotist Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to commit murders.



(story and screen play by), (story and screen play by)
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Complete credited cast:
Francis (as Friedrich Fehér)
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski ...
Alan (as Hans Heinrich v. Twardowski)
Rudolf Lettinger ...


Francis, a young man, recalls in his memory the horrible experiences he and his fiancée Jane recently went through. It is the annual fair in Holstenwall. Francis and his friend Alan visit The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, an exhibit where the mysterious doctor shows the somnambulist Cesare, and awakens him for some moments from his death-like sleep. When Alan asks Cesare about his future, Cesare answers that he will die before dawn. The next morning Alan is found dead. Francis suspects Cesare of being the murderer, and starts spying on him and Dr. Caligari. The following night Cesare is going to stab Jane in her bed, but softens when he sees the beautiful woman, and instead of committing another murder, he abducts her. Jane's father awakens because of the noise, and he and some servants follow the fleeing Cesare. When Cesare cannot outrun his pursuers anymore, he gently places Jane down on the ground, and runs away. Francis and the police investigate the caravan of Dr. Caligari, but the ... Written by Maths Jesperson {maths.jesperson1@comhem.se}

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Dr. Caligari and his mysterious slave - the black and white phantom who lives in a cabinet and goes forth in his sleep to do his master's bidding. the weirdest characters ever seen on the screen and the most daringly different picture ever seen. See more »


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

19 March 1921 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  »

Box Office


$18,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


(video) | (DVD)

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Made before "horror" was a designated genre, this is sometimes cited as the first true horror film (although films with elements of the macabre were certainly made earlier). See more »


In the distant shot, the sign at the asylum reads "Insane Asylum," in English. In the close-up, the sigh is written in German (Kino Blu-ray Disc version, may not be present in all editions of the film). See more »


[first lines]
Man in garden: Spirits surround us on every side... they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child.
See more »

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User Reviews

Art = Film
15 October 2004 | by (Annapolis, Maryland) – See all my reviews

Dr. Caligari presents the viewer with a frightening vision of the world through the lens of German Expressionism.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It's truly fascinating. And, it really (really) is an art film, since it purposefully and strikingly exhibits the new art of the German inter-war milieu. So, be prepared for an other-worldly excursion into the "total work of art," or Gesamtkunstwerk, of this monumental and influential film.

This film is best seen at night, alone, and with the modern soundtrack which is available on the fully restored version. If the DVD you're watching does not have (a) choice of two soundtracks (traditional music and much-scarier modern track), (b) tinted inter-titles set in a surrealistic (actually expressionistic) font, and (3) is fairly high quality, then send it back and get the restored version. The quality and completeness of silent films are a major factor in experiencing the art form as it was meant to be experienced. The modern sound track in Dr. Caligari makes the film much more accessible for modern audiences (the eerie effects in the modern track heighten the feel of the film for the modern viewer) - try both tracks, you'll see.

It's surprising how frightening and impactful this film can be. You will have dreams about it, I promise. These between-the-wars German films are riddled with creepy foreshadowing for us in the present, who know what was about to happen in Germany.

Anyway, I think the film is best viewed with NO NOTICE. You don't really want to know the plot (the meaning of the end of the film can be interpreted in radically different ways - keep that in mind when it happens). Only one note - artistically the German Expressionist movement is worth reading about after you see the film - you'll notice the theme of "death and the maiden" woven into this artwork. Also, this film is the direct ancestor of films like "Nightmare Before Christmas" and a lot more - you'll recognize the Expressionist look in many presentations in television and film.

WARNING - I would NOT show this film to children. It's very subtly and psychologically undermining - you'll be thinking and freaking about this thing for months to come - such a thing shouldn't be experienced by children - it's an adult, art film (no, not that kind) made for adults.

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