Film Review: The Hands of Orlac (1924)

Also known as: Orlacs Hände (original German title)
Release Date: September 24th, 1924 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wiene
Written by: Ludwig Nertz (play), Maurice Renard (book)
Music by: Pierre Oser
Cast: Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina, Fritz Kortner, Carmen Cartellieri, Fritz Strassny, Paul Askonas

Pan Films, Berolina Film GmbH, 92 Minutes, 113 Minutes (restored), 105 Minutes (2013 cut)

Review:

As big of a fan of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as I am, I actually hadn’t seen any of his other films until now.

I’ve known of this one for quite some time but I never came across it until it started streaming on The Criterion Channel, recently. Being that it was only on there for a limited time, I had to check it out. Plus, it starred the legendary Conrad Veidt and all of his silent films showcase his great talent for acting in that very expressive style.

Like Caligari this film utilizes the visual style of the German Expressionist movement. It features a high contrast chiaroscuro aesthetic while also having a visually surreal quality. Everything feels dark and dreamlike and for Wiene, you can see a more refined style than what he showed just four years earlier with Caligari.

Honestly, this feels like a more mature and plausible film. It’s less fantastical, more gritty and it taps into the psyche a bit deeper, providing a sense of dread and horror that eclipses that more popular and widely known Wiene picture.

The story is about a pianist who loses his hands. So he’s given hands that could’ve possibly belonged to a killer. While he doesn’t get back his ability to play music, weird things start to happen that have the man believing that the hands are taking over his body and causing him to kill. There are some twists to the plot and there’s a big reveal scene at the end but even though this is a very old film, I didn’t find it to be predictable and it had a satisfying ending.

I don’t think that this film could’ve been as good, though, without Conrad Veidt in the starring role. He gives us some of his best work, as you really start to buy into his worst thoughts about himself while feeling for the guy, as he could possibly be an innocent victim, possessed by evil hands.

While I don’t like this as much as Caligari, it feels like it utilized the knowledge Wiene gained while working on that film, as well as his others that predate this one.

Additionally, it also features one of the best Veidt performances I’ve ever seen. 

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other silent era horror films, especially those with the German Expressionist style.

Documentary Review: From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (2014)

Also known as: Von Caligari zu Hitler: Das deutsche Kino im Zeitalter der Massen (Germany)
Release Date: August 28th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Rüdiger Suchsland
Music by: Henrik Albrecht, Michael Hartmann

Looks Filmproduktionen Arte, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), 118 Minutes

from-caligari-to-hitlerReview:

I haven’t read the book From Caligari to Hitler but once a documentary about the subject matter came out, I had to watch it.

For those who don’t know, the book was published in 1947 by German film critic Siegfried Kracauer. It was one of the first major works published on German film, specifically the era between World War I and World War II. The book examines whether or not the German film industry of the time foreshadowed the rise of totalitarianism in German culture.

The main reason why I haven’t read the book yet, is that most copies of it are pretty pricey. Besides, seeing the book’s ideas and themes explored in a documentary format is actually more beneficial, to be honest. With it being covered in actual film, the viewer is visually treated to all the motion pictures and scenes that are referenced in the original work. The documentary also allows modern film scholars to discuss the ideas now, years later, while expanding on Kracauer’s points.

The documentary was made in Germany and is in the German language. The version I watched on Netflix, where it is currently streaming for subscribers, had English subtitles.

The film is pretty compelling. It also isn’t just about the narrative that these silent era German pictures had a link to the rise of the Nazis. The documentary gives a fantastic look into early German cinema. It covers a lot of films and is pretty broad in which genres and styles it showcases. It isn’t just about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which it alludes to in the title, it is about the whole of German filmmaking and German pop culture between the two World Wars. It is actually quite amazing how much territory this documentary covers in just under two hours.

The presentation was great; the narration and interviews were informative and thorough. One couldn’t have asked for a better film on the subject matter.

From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses is fantastic for any fan of film and history. Few documentaries on film history, especially those focused on an international market, are this good.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Also known as: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Germany)
Release Date: February 26th, 1920 (Germany)
Directed by: Robert Wiene
Written by: Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Music by: Giuseppe Becce
Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover, Hans Twardowski

Decla-Bioscop, 74 Minutes

das-cabinet-des-dr-caligariReview:

Few movies can illicit as many feelings and emotions without the use of sound as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. While I love many films of the silent era, especially the German Expressionist pictures of that time, none of them quite capture my attention and imagination in the way that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has.

The film came out between the two World Wars, wedged between the loss and destruction of the Great War and the rise of Nazi Germany. Needless to say, it was one of the darkest and precarious eras in European history. The film reflects the state of life in that time and it exists as an allegory to the war-like authority of the state and the abuse of the common man, manipulated by a greater power into committing heinous acts that serve the sinister master.

Was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari somewhat prophetic? Scholars have debated that for decades. In fact, there are several books and a documentary about it.

As a film, outside of its apparent political influence, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a superior work of art. It is meticulous in its design and execution. It is one of the most haunting and well-acted silent films ever made.

The real standout of the film is the talent of Conrad Veidt, who played the hypnotically controlled somnambulist killer Cesare. His motion, his facial expressions and his aura of dread makes him one of the greatest horror characters in the history of cinema. In the silent era, he is only really rivaled by Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck) in 1922’s Nosferatu and Lon Chaney in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera.

Werner Krauss also created a very effective and scary presence as the title character, Dr. Caligari. He was large and brooding and carried a strong sense of authority with him, especially when the reality of his character is revealed in a great twist ending.

Lil Dagover was beautiful and almost angelic as the apple of everyone’s eye. She had a grace and frailty that made her feel like a sole delicate flower on the verge of getting torn apart in the oncoming storm.

Apart from the acting, the set design was also marvelous. The surreal German Expressionist vibe takes over the film and makes it feel like a nightmare sequence, which is the intention. It is effective while creating a contemporary dark fantasy setting that many filmmakers have tried to emulate for generations with none of them coming close to the magic of this film’s set design and cinematography.

There are many great motion pictures from the silent film era. None of them, however, match the storytelling, aesthetic and overall quality of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. While F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is also a great silent classic that many consider the best of the best, it still falls behind Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Plus, this film also benefits from being its own unique story where Murnau’s masterpiece is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Rating: 10/10