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20th Century Fox presents
The Cabinet of Caligari (1962)

"I want to know you, completely, totally, without inhibition."
- Dr. Caligari (Dan O'Herlihy)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 07, 2005

Stars: Glynis Johns, Dan O'Herlihy, Dick Davalos, Lawrence Dokbin, Constance Ford
Other Stars: J. Pat O'Malley, Vicki Trickett, Estelle Winwood, Doreen Lang
Director: Roger Kay

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, thematic material)
Run Time: 01h:45m:25s
Release Date: September 06, 2005
UPC: 024543202912
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+AB D-

DVD Review

One of the milestones of the motion picture was the 1920 release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Its intense visuals and frequently surreal occurrences opened the gateway for German Expressionism in a way that still resonates in some motion pictures today. But in 1962 a re-imagining of the story on completely different terms was lensed (cynics would say that producer/director Roger Kay was simply ripping off the title). Although it has its problems and lacks the visual flair of the original, it certainly has some intense moments of its own.

Jane Lindstrom (Glynis Johns) is driving down a lonely road when she gets a flat; lacking tools she heads down the road and after walking for many hours reaches a mansion owned by psychiatrist Dr. Caligari (Dan O'Herlihy). Jane just wants to rest for a bit and get some help, but she soon learns that she will be kept a prisoner by Caligari and his assistant Christine (Constance Ford). The only way to win her release is to allow herself to be analyzed from beginning to end. Jane is resistant, seeing this as a violation of her persona, but other residents of the mansion who try to help her end up being violently murdered, leading Jane to despair of ever winning her freedom again. And Caligari becomes more and more demanding and deranged in his assaults upon her psyche.

Don't expect much of the original to survive in this version; the famous German Expressionist sets only put in a cameo appearance during a dream sequence, and there are no murderous sombnambulists wandering about. For that matter, there aren't any cabinets either. But the thematic material of psychiatric manipulation and deceit survives intact, and some of the same twists in the original are present here, though they're given a rather different perspective from the widely divergent lead-ins. The interrogations of Jane are way over the top, as O'Herlihy adopts a bizarre accent of indeterminate ethnicity, hammering away at her as he makes deranged demands for every detail of her sex and fantasy life, then resorts to peering in on her in the bath when she fails to comply. There's a demented focus on sexual obsession and perversion, fueled by Caligari's voyeuristic curiousity, until Jane has little choice but to attempt to fight fire with seduction.

The film takes the perspective that not only the psychiatric profession is sick and twisted, but much of modern life itself. Reactionary in some aspects, there's a definite stream of attack on Alfred Kinsey's questioning of sexual habits, as well as a suggestion of a correlation between Caligari's decadent prurience and the apparent fondness he has for abstract art, from paintings to a surrealist mobile hanging over his desk. Metaphor also abounds Robert Bloch's script, including such tidbits as a hedge maze suggesting the mental haze that Jane plunges into, and dreams of being caged. The script's principal weakness is that the twists are fairly predictable and obvious, causing the picture to feel rather overlong. It seems about 20 minutes too much and probably could have done with some judicious editing. The talky coda is far too long and would have worked better with more subtlety, a problem inherent also in Bloch's earlier Psycho.

While O'Herlihy plays things broadly, it's really Johns who makes this work. Her tremulous voice is perfect for Jane, pushed to the very edge, and she displays a wide range of emotion as she tries to reach out to others in the house, trusting them and establishing alliances, only to have her hopes repeatedly smashed as she descends into utter despair. She's quite credible as someone right at the brink of collapse. Doreen Lang is particularly good as a woman who brutally pays for her assistance to Jane. Christine Ford strikes the right balance of coldness and empathy, occasionally suggesting something more beneath her icy exterior, but is it genuine or just another bit of Caligari's elaborate deceptions? While no substitute for the original film, this early-1960s rendering manages to have an impact independent of the German picture.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white Cinemascope picture is exquisitely rendered with substantial greyscale range and excellent shadow detail. Detail is crisp and vivid throughout, with nice texturing. Blacks are solid with minimal artifacting. There's also a pan & scan version on the opposite side, but that can safely be ignored since it utterly destroys the careful compositions.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both stereo and 2.0 mono English tracks are provided. The stereo track is much better, with a nicely shaped soundstage and decent, though not overt, separation. The mono sounds rather lifeless in comparison.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The sole extra is a fairly worn anamorphic trailer. The disc is preceded by a hugely annoying, loud, and, worst of all, unskippable PSA about pirating DVDs. Marks down for obnoxiously accusing your customers of theft before they start to watch your movie, which they've probably purchased honestly. Shame on you, Fox. [You know how those crazy kids love to pirate obscure catalogue titles! - Ed.]

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Not exactly a remake, not exactly independent from the original, this modern Caligari story has some frequent high-impact moments interspersed with scenes condemning of modern life. The transfer is flawless, but there's nothing much in terms of extras.


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