This film, often called The Somnambulist, is covered
in any introductory film course. Is it worthwhile on its own?

Premise

A man tells a tale about a somnambulist and his master. (The
somnambulist is asleep, and will follow the orders of his master.
In
this case, he kills.)

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Directed by Robert Wiene, and starring Werner Krauss, Conrad
Veidt,
Friedrich Feher, and Lil Dagover. Complete details are available
on
the IMDB
page
.

High Point

In what may be the first instance of studio interference in a film,
the studio demanded that the movie be changed into something
with less
killing. Rather than change the existing product, the director
chose
to add a framing story (ie. the intial courtyard scene, as well as
the
final courtyard scene and everything that follows it.) I like this
new ending much better, myself.

Low Point

He just keels over?

Preliminary Words

Movie-making has changed a lot since this was made in 1920.
Movies
today have sound, colour, and all sorts of other newfangled little
devices, like low and high angle camera shots, tracking shots,
dissolves, and so forth. I can’t decide if this should be reviewed
by
the standards of today (which leaves it at a huge disadvantage),
or by
the standards of its creation (which I may not be qualified to
judge,
not having been around to see the state of movies in 1920.)
What I’m
going to do is try to do both. I’ll review it from the historical
perspective as best I understand it, and from the modern
perspective.

The Scores

Historical Modern
Originality The concept of telling a complete
story
this long was still pretty new in 1920. Add in the nature of the
horror flick, which used very human villains and one heck of a
twist
ending, and it scores well. I give it 6 out of 6.
It’s a
serial killer flick with a decent twist ending. I give it 3 out of
6.
Effects They didn’t use a lot of effects. In fact,
apart from the form the hero was watching through the window,
everything could be filmed as a completely physical effect. There
were no supernatural elements, after all. I give it 4 out of
6.
The only effect was entirely unconvincing. I give it 2
out of 6.
Story The story begins with a simple plot, and
then
becomes something much more complicated than anything else
I’ve seen
from the era. I give it 5 out of 6.
The story isn’t
complicated by today’s film standards; much like the original
Star
Wars
, we get a few known archetypes thrown in at the
start, and
then we run with them. The twist ending saves it to some degree,
and
it receives 3 out of 6.
Acting The acting was well done for the era.
Without
sound, they were forced to use extreme emotions and
extravagent body
language to get the point across. I give it 5 out of 6.
The
acting depends on extreme emotions and extravagent body
language,
overplayed in every scene. They’d be unemployed hacks if they
tried
this today. Krauss was the only one with a sense of subtlety. I
give
it 2 out of 6.
Production The production was amazing in its
time.
Dual irises on the screen was a nice touch I rarely hear about
now.
Instead, people rave about the set designs. As the pinnacle of
German
Expressionist film, it’s loaded with warped sets, exaggerated
props,
and buildings and objects without a right angle to be seen. The
stripes in Caligari’s hair match the markings on his gloves, and
the
cast was chosen for physical attributes that play to their
character
types. It was exceptional, and its influences are still felt today.
(Just rent any Tim Burton film.) I give it 6 out of 6.
There
was no sound, the camera is extremely utilitarian, and the lighting
level was so limited by the film stock that they ended up painting
shadows on the sets to compensate. The set and costume
designs are
really the only aspects that hold up today. I give it 3 out of
6.
Emotional Response As a piece of history, it’s
very
interesting. This, in addition to the story, earns it a 5 out of 6.
The first 40 minutes of a 50 minute film drag on
lifelessly.
The ending saves it from the doldrums that it’s in by virtue of
having been copied dozens and dozens of times since. I give it
2 out
of 6.
Overall If you’re interested in the history of
cinema
and in old set designs and storytelling, this is mandatory
viewing. Fortunately for you, it’s available at very good prices.
(My
DVD copy cost me $6.99 Canadian at the local London Drugs. I
picked
up Nosferatu and the original Dr. Jekyll and
Mr. Hyde
at the same price at the same location.) I give it
6
out of 6.
If you’re not interested in where movies have
been,
this will bore the snot out of you. Find something else, instead. I
give it 2 out of 6, saved from a score of 1 by the
ending.
Total 37 out of 42 17 out of
42