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Malice in Wonderland

movie reviews Updated: Dec 31, 2010 23:42 IST
Highlight Story

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Enlighten, Rs 399

Rating: *****

This silent “film in six acts” gets curiouser and curiouser from the first act. Francis starts telling the strange tale of his best friend Alan. At a fair they get lured into the tent of Cesare, a somnambulist with the gift of foresight who’s paraded by Dr Caligari. Cesare predicts Alan’s death. When Alan is killed, Cesare becomes the suspect. He abducts Alan’s sleeping wife Jane and, wearied by the townsfolk’s chase, leaves her after a distance. But was it Cesare? Wasn’t he supposed to be sleeping? The investigators check his ‘resting place’, a coffin minded by Dr Caligari. When they find a dummy, they chase the jowl-jawed doc all the way to a lunatic asylum. But is he a patient there or the director?

This mind-bender is one of the finest works of Expressionism, an artistic movement that flourished in Germany in the frugal era between the Wars. Director Robert Wiene’s craft is brought alive by the wily-eyed Dr Caligari of Werner Krauss and the ashen-faced Cesare of Conrad Veidt.

Two other aspects dazzle. The art direction by Hermann Warm, Walter Riemann and Walter Röhrig — with dizzying sets full of acute angles — is like Euclid on Speed. Even the typeface this silent film uses for the dialogues enhance the edginess. The other stunner is the music. If you thought Coleman Hawkins brought the saxophone into jazz, listen to this haunting score that flits between a pre-bop horn and a strings-based jangle. And then consider that the film was made in 1920.