The most important and the most original photoplay that has come to this city of Chicago the last year is being presented at the Ziegfeld theater this week in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. That is exactly the way some people say it. The craziest, wildest, shivery movie that has come wriggling across the silver sheet of a cinema house. That is the way other people look at it. It looks like a collaboration of Rube Goldberg, Ben Hecht, Charlie Chaplin and Edgar Allan Poe—a melting pot of the styles and techniques of all four.
Are you tired of the same old things done the same old way? Do you wish to see murder and retribution, insanity, somnambulism, grotesque puppetry, scenery solemn and stormy, wild as the wildest melodrama and yet as restrained as comic and well manipulated marionettes? Then it is for you this Caligari and his cabinet. However, if your sense of humor and your instinct of wonder and your reverence of human mystery is not working well this week then you should stay away from the Ziegfeld because you would go away saying Caligari and his cabinet are sick, morbid, loony.
Recall to yourself before going that Mark Twain is only one of numerous mortal philosophers who has declared some one streak of insanity runs in each of us.
Only two American motion picture artists have approached the bold handling, the smash and the getaway, the stride and rapidity of this foreign made film. Those two artists are Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith.
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.
This film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, is so bold a work of independent artists going it footloose, that one can well under־ stand it might affect audiences just as a sea voyage affects a ship-load of passengers. Some have to leave the top decks, unable to stand sight or smell of the sea. Others take the air and the spray, the salt and the chill, and call the trip an exhilaration.
There are two murders [in the film]. They are the creepiest murders this observer has thus far noted in photoplays. Yet the killings are only suggested. They are not told and acted out fully. (No censor could complain in this respect.) As murders they remind one of the darker pages of Shakespeare, of Hamlet, Macbeth, and again of the De Quincey essay “On Murder as one of the Fine Arts.” Then a sleepwalker is about to kill a woman. He drops the dagger instead, and carries her away across house roofs, down a street. Oh, this sad sleepwalker and how and why he couldn’t help it!
This is one of the few motion picture productions that might make one say, “Here is one Shakespeare would enjoy coming back to have a look at.” However, be cheerful when you go to see this. Or else terribly sad. Its terrors and grotesques will match any sadness you may have and so comfort you. But if you go feeling real cheerful and expecting to be more cheerful, you may find yourself slipping.
The music is worked out well. The orchestral passages run their tallies of chord and rhythm and silence—they growl or they are elated—with the story running on the silversheet.
When it’s a cracker jack of a production and the observer feels good about it he mentions the screen as a silversheet. Whereas if it’s otherwise he says celluloid. Personally, in this instance one says silversheet.
In a range of three blocks on Michigan boulevard this week one may see Ben Ami in legitimate [theater], the exhibition of the “introspectives” at the Arts Club, and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at the Ziegfeld. It is quite a week.
Yes, we heard what a couple of people said going out. One said, “It’s the craziest movie I ever went to.” The other one said, “I don’t know whether I want this for a steady diet but it’s the best picture I’ve seen in a long while.”
Cubist, futurist, post־impressionist, characterize it by any name denoting a certain style, it has its elements of power, knowledge, technic, passion, that make it sure to have an influence toward more easy flowing, joyous, original American movies.
Title supplied. Originally published in The Daily News, Chicago, May 12, 1921. Reprinted by permission of The Chicago Daily News.