The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) (Bounty Films) (1920)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 22-Mar-2017

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Audio Commentary-by film critic John Noonan
Short Film-Tales of Frankenstein (1958) (27:16)
Short Film-Tales of Tomorrow #16 Frankenstein (1952) (25:24)
Short Film-Frankenstein (1910) (12:41)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1920
Running Time 75:27 (Case: 74)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Robert Wiene
Studio
Distributor
Decla Film-Gsllschft
Gryphon Entertainment
Starring Werner Krauss
Conrad Veidt
Friedrich Feher
Lil Dagover
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
Rudolf Lettinger
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Dolby Digital 5.1 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     When the annual fair comes to their small town, best friends Franzis (Friedrich Feher) and Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), who both love the same woman, Jane (Lil Dagover), attend. One of the exhibits at the fair is a somnambulist, a young man named Cesare (Conrad Veidt) who has been asleep for 23 years but who can be “awakened” by his keeper Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) to tell people’s fortunes. Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, and is shaken when the answer is until tomorrow! That night Alan is murdered. Franzis suspects Caligari and Cesare but they seem to be innocent, especially when another man is arrested in town for attempting to murder a woman. But Caligari is indeed involved for he is able to compel the sleepwalking Cesare to kill. He sends Cesare to kill Jane but, entranced by her beauty, he abducts her instead and is chased across the rooftops. Jane is recovered unhurt; Franzis, still suspicious, has been watching Caligari and follows him to the local lunatic asylum, where further surprises await.

     The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released by director Robert Wiene in 1920 in Germany a scant two years after the end of WW1, is a stunning achievement. It contains some indelible images that are still powerful today; Cesare with the black diamond shaped sunken eyes and white face, the maniacal expressions of Dr. Caligari, Cesare carrying Jane silhouetted on the rooftop are a few which stay in the mind. The expressionist sets are unlike anything in film: nothing is square as the doors and walls are all at strange angles, non-geometric shapes and distorted perspectives. For budgetary reasons the walls were made of painted paper, with painted shadows, and they can be seen sometimes to wobble which only adds to the fun of the film. But make no mistake, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, is still very much worth seeing.

     Most film fans are likely to have a copy of the film already as it has been released on numerous occasions around the world on Laser Disc, DVD and Blu-ray with different specifications and extras. DVDBeaver provides some examples here. There was also a Collector’s Edition DVD released in Australia some years ago the review of that version can be found here while an earlier release is reviewed here. So what is the source of this new release from Bounty and does it have anything new to offer?

     The first question is very difficult to answer as the DVD box cover and the distributors provide no information whatsoever; we are not even told anywhere the name of the composer of the music track that accompanies the film! But what we do get in this release is quite unique and, I think, exclusive to Australia!

     The video looks very good, far better than many younger films that I have watched. It is in the PAL format and has small marks, vertical scratches and some splice marks but it is properly tinted with blue, yellow, brown and pink sections and we get the German title cards with white English subtitles which can be removed. So far this is not dissimilar to some of the other releases based on the screen shots on the DVDBeaver site. But then the differences start; the score (whoever the composer is) is mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 which I cannot find on other releases except for one Blu-ray, giving a very interesting, and effective, surround feel. It is hardly authentic, but it is good fun nonetheless. And then we get to the extras!

     The earlier Australian releases included an audio commentary by film critic Mike Budd. This Bounty release features a very good commentary by Australian film critic John Noonan recorded specifically for this DVD; see the extras section below for more details. The rest of the extras are not related to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but to Frankenstein and so are horror related, which I suppose is the connection to the film. I found them fascinating, especially the short film from 1910, Frankenstein, the first ever film treatment of that subject. Again, details are in the extras section.

     The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a gem of a film, audacious and innovative, which rightly deserves its cult status. Conrad Veidt (who was married to a Jew and later, after fleeing Nazi Germany, turned up as Gestapo Major Strasser in Casablanca (1942)) and Werner Krauss (who in contrast was a favourite of Josef Goebbels) are both outstanding while the use of light and shadow and the expressionist sets means that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari remains a must see even today.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is presented in a ratio of 1.33:1, in the PAL format. My computer reads the film as 16x9; it does display in the proper 4x3 ratio on my widescreen TV.

     This 95 year old film looks very good. Not surprisingly there are dirt marks, scratches and frame jumps but artefacts such as interlacing or macro blocking are absent. Detail is quite solid. The film is tinted with blue, yellow, brown and pink sections so blacks while not pristine are acceptable. Brightness and contrast fluctuate but overall I was very impressed by the quality of the print. The scores have been adjusted as one cannot judge a film of this age against modern films.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 at 224 Kbps plus the audio commentary, Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps.

     As a silent film, there was obviously no dialogue or effects to comment on! The score, while not for purists, was nicely enveloping with a little bass as well. There was minor hum occasionally but nothing serious.

     Obviously there are no lip synchronization issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There extras are fascinating, although except for the commentary none have a connection with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari although in the commentary the influence of the film on Frankenstein films is mentioned, so there may be a connection after all! In any case, for film buffs these other extras are a treasure trove of Frankenstein themed film material.

Audio Commentary with film critic John Noonan

     This commentary was recorded for this Bounty release. Australian film critic John Noonan chats to Leslie Morris; this is a chatty, entertaining and informative commentary, although occasionally a bit flippant, as they discuss German expressionism, the German film industry after WW1, the life and career of director Robert Wiene, the writers, the historical background, the sets, the film’s themes and interpretations, its influence, remakes and the framing device.

Tales of Frankenstein (1958) (27:16)

     This was a TV pilot for The Award Theatre produced by Hammer in 1958. It was intended to become a series of Frankenstein related stories but was not picked up. In the pilot Baron Frankenstein (Anton Diffring) has created his monster (Don Megowan) using the brain of a murdered man, so of course the monster turns violent. Frankenstein decides that he needs the brain of a cultured man instead and is lucky when Christine Halpert (Helen Westcott) turns up at the Baron’s castle with her dying sculptor husband asking for help, but of course things do not go to plan. One draw here is Anton Diffring. He was born in Germany but fled the Nazis in 1939; however during his long career in TV and film (143 credits listed in the IMDb) he ended up frequently playing Nazis, such as Colonel Kramer in Where Eagles Dare in 1966. While the black and white print is soft, the artefacts are not too numerous so this is quite watchable. The real issue, however, is the audio track which is out of sync by some margin!!

Tales of Tomorrow #16 Frankenstein (1952) (25:24)

     This is part of the “Tales of Tomorrow” TV series that ran on ABC TV in America from 1951 to 1953. It is #16 which aired on 18 January 1952 and the main interest, amid pretty indifferent acting by John Newland as Frankenstein and Mary Alice Moore as his fiancé, is character actor and monster legend Lon Chaney Jr’s poignant performance as the monster. Otherwise this is a typical TV presentation from the early 1950s; it looks soft, there are regular scratches and marks, it uses only two small sets and although we are told it is 16C Switzerland, the guns look very American West!

Frankenstein (1910) (12:41)

     This is an absolute gem. Made by the Edison company in 1910, this is the first ever filmed treatment of Frankenstein which was considered lost until a tinted print was discovered in 1970! Frankenstein (Augustue Phillips) heads off to college (very US) and discovers the mystery of life. But the monster he creates (Charles Ogle) is jealous of Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth (Mary Fuller) which causes problems on their wedding night! This is over 100 years old so is blurry, grainy and full of artefacts. But the effects as the monster is created (actually a dummy being destroyed by fire but played backwards to show creation instead) are fascinating. The other point of interest, if one were needed, was the presence of Mary Fuller who made an amazing 226 silent shorts and films between 1907 and 1917 before disappearing from films!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     As noted in the review, while there are many, many different versions of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari available this Australian release seems unique. Each fan will have their preferences.

Summary

     A silent film released in 1920, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the father of horror films and rightly deserves its cult status. It is a film which continues to resonate today for it contains images that are still incredibly powerful and an intriguing framing device that has been used so many times since it has become a cliché. The video is surprisingly good, the audio an unusual 5.1.

     Film buffs and fans of the film will already have a copy. Your interest in the extras will be the factor in deciding on a purchase of this release. If you don’t have The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this is your chance.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, April 14, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE