The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Poster


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Writer Hans Janowitz claims to have gotten the idea for the film when he was at a carnival one day. He saw a strange man lurking in the shadows. The next day, he heard that a girl was brutally murdered there. He went to the funeral, and saw the same strange man lurking around. He had no proof that the strange man was the murderer, but he fleshed the whole idea out into his film.
The sets were made out of paper, with the shadows painted on the walls.
Played at one Paris theater for seven years.
Weeks before the initial release of the film, posters with the tag-line "Du mußt Caligari werden!" ("You have to become Caligari!") were put up in Berlin without the slightest hint that they were promotion for the upcoming movie.
Sets were constructed for less than $800 and the leading actors were paid $30 a day.
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).
In the May 12, 1921 edition of the Chicago Daily News, Carl Sandburg wrote of the film: "It is a healthy thing for Hollywood, Culver City, Universal City, and all other places where movie film is being produced, that this photoplay has come along at this time. It is sure to have healthy hunches and show new possibilities in style and method to our American Producers."
When the film opened at the Capitol Theater in New York in April 1921, some audience members reportedly booed and demanded their money back.
The final look and feel of the film was based as much on low budget practicalities as it was on creative inspiration and expressionism. Electricity was strictly rationed in post WWI Germany at the time the film was being shot. So, Director Robert Wiene ended us simply painting light beams on backdrops. Shooting on severely confined sets, forced him to use unusual camera angles.
Producer Erich Pommer wanted to have Fritz Lang as the film's director. Lang was interested, but then decided to work on another film, Die Spinnen, 1. Teil - Der Goldene See (1919).
When it premiered, the film was jeered and was withdrawn. Decla-Bioskop worked up a new promotional campaign and reopened it at Marmorhaus, another Berlin theater and was a success.
Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer wrote the script in six weeks in February and March 1919 and sold it to Erich Pommer for $200.
The earliest German film included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Writer Hans Janowitz wrote the female lead character for his girlfriend Gilda Langer, an actress at the "Residenz-Theater" in Berlin, but it was Lil Dagover who finally got the role.
The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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Original German censorship certificate 'Jugendverbot' delivered in March 1920.
New German censorship certificate # 32202 delivered on 10-6-1964, renewed on 3-2-1995.
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Finnish censorship certificate T-11308 (video) delivered on 9-9-1993.
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French visa # 31203.
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The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

Director Robert Wiene added the opening and closing scenes to Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer original script in order to make the film more commercially viable. (It is often speculated that the "all a delusion" twist was to deflect suspicion that the film painted authority as insane.) Fritz Lang claims to have suggested the introductory scene when first presented with the script.

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