Considered the first horror film ever made, it begins at a carnival where a sideshow operator named Caligari, played by Werner Krauss, exhibits Cesare, a Somnambulist, played by Conrad Veidt. Caligari claims that Cesare has been sleeping since birth, and keeps him in a coffin. Caligari also claims that he can answer any question, including when someone will die.
Directed by Robert Weine, this film is believed to be the first example in cinema of German Expressionism, a visual style in which both characters and the world itself are out of joint. The set is comprised of jagged landscapes, tilted walls, and staircases going in odd directions. Its camera angles and lighting can be seen in such later “film noirs” like The Third Man (1949).
Robert Wiene (1873-1938) began his career in 1913 and directed 47 films, including The Hands of Orlac (1924). He fled to the United States during Hitler’s rise, and at the time of his death was working on Ultimatum (1938), with another refugee, Erich von Stroheim. Conrad Veidt (1893-1943), another refugee, made 119 films including Casablanca (1942), in which he played Major Strasser.