The German-made Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a mystery story told in the Poe manner and fairly prods the interest along at a high pace. But it is morbid. The story is of a young man who is seen first relating to a visitor the peculiar reasons for the trance in which a young lady whom he points out appears to be. And then we are into the major portion of the story.
This relates how a faker came to a fair at a small town and proceeded to enliven things by having a somnambulist, Cesare, who had been asleep for 23 years foretell the future. The faker called himself Dr Caligari. A murder is foretold and a series of them occur. Dr Caligari is pursued to a neighboring insane asylum, where he is revealed as Dr Sonnow, head of the institution.
At this point we dissolve back to the young man, Francis, telling the visitor his story. Enter Dr Sonnow. Francis promptly attacks him, protesting he is Caligari. That is the delusion of Francis, and now that he knows his delusion, the innocent Dr Sonnow can cure him. The rest was a tale told by a madman.
Of first importance is the direction and cutting. This has resulted in a series of actions so perfectly dovetailed as to carry the story through at a perfect tempo. Robert Wiene has made perfect use of settings designed by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Roehrig, settings that squeeze and turn and adjust the eye and through the eye the mentality.
The best performance unquestionably is that given by Werner Krauss as Dr Caligari. The unpleasant somnambulist, Cesare, is ghoulishly made evident by Conrad Veidt. Lesser roles are competently taken.