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Written by Timothy Sexton
Screenwriter Hans Janowitz is alleged to have written the part of Dr. Caligari specifically for Werner Kraus who had already carved out a career on German theater stages which had earned him the distinction of being called one of the greatest living actors in the world. The specific experiences playing part in Expressionist productions endowed Kraus with the insight necessary to suggest cosmetic changes in the appearance of his character which significantly enhanced the sinister aspects of Caligari. Unlike so many of his fellow creative artists who thrived in German theater and cinema prior to the rise of Hitler, Kraus did not find fame on Broadway or in Hollywood since he never self-exile necessary. Unapologetically anti-Semitic, Kraus was not just an active supporter of the Nazi Party, but enjoyed even greater success under its regime. One of the casualties of Germany’s defeat in World War II was Kraus’ acting career. Not only did he lose his status as an artist, he also lost his Austrian citizenship and was forced to undergo a de-Nazification program.
Whereas Werner Kraus was sleepwalking his way through the crushing realities of supporting the doomed Nazi Party, the actor who played the somnambulistic Cesare lived a life following Caligari that turned out quite differently. The fascist storm front that would eventually succeed only in obliterating the foundation of Germany’s stage and film industry sent Conrad Veidt first to the British film industry and thence to Hollywood. Whereas Kraus would die in relative obscurity, Veidt’s legacy would extend from one of the all-time classic Hollywood films to comic books. American audiences are likely most familiar with the actor as the Nazi who gets shot by Humphrey Bogart while trying to make a phone call at the end of Casablanca. Comic book fans may unknowingly recognize Veidt every time they open a Batman comic featuring a villain that bears a striking resemblance to a character the actor played in the film The Man Who Laughs. A villain known only as The Joker.
Dagover’s film career began in 1919 and her last appearance on screen was in 1979. Like Kraus, Dagover stayed in Germany throughout the Nazi years where she was such a favorite of Adolf Hitler that she was a dinner guest of the Fuhrer many times. Unlike her co-star, however, she was not an overt supporter of the fascist ideology and the result was, as indicated, a career that was seamlessly maintained from the Germany of the Weimar Republic through the rise and fall of the Third Reich and into the age of the Berlin Wall.
The character of Francis is the great manipulator of the narrative being told in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Francis winds up becoming more than he seems and may even said to be ruling influence of how the film is interpreted. The same might be said of Friedrich Feher, the actor who plays him. Achieving neither the infamy of Werner Kraus nor the fame of Conrad Veidt, it turns out that Feher eclipsed them both in terms of artistic ambition and achievement. Feher actually directed more films than he acted in. In addition to success as an actor and director, Feher also wrote several screenplays and even composed the musical score for two the films he directed.
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari marked one of the first of many German film appearances by Twardowski, but his career would include roughly as many appearances in Hollywood movies. As a homosexual, Twardowski saw the writing on the wall illustrated by swastikas fairly early on and was already making American movies by 1932. He would reteam with co-star Veidt in a fashion on the set of Casablanca as the German officer with designs on Yvonne.
Lettinger had already appeared in twenty films by the time he was cast as Dr. Olsen. The rise of the Adolf Hitler effectively had little impact upon his later career as he made his last appearance on screen in 1931 before dying in 1937.
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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by director Robert Wiene.