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  Cabinet of Caligari, The You'll Never LeaveBuy this film here.
Year: 1962
Director: Roger Kay
Stars: Glynis Johns, Dan O'Herlihy, Richard Davalos, Lawrence Dobkin, Constance Ford, J. Pat O'Malley, Vicki Trickett, Estelle Winwood, Doreen Lang, Charles Fredericks, Phyllis Teagardin
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Weirdo
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jane Lindstrom (Glynis Johns) is driving barefoot through the countryside, enjoying the wind in her hair in her open-topped sports car, when the vehicle suffers a flat tyre and she is forced to stop by the roadside. Having no other option, she puts her shoes back on and starts the long walk to somewhere with a telephone, but night has fallen by the time she sees a house and she is exhausted after her trek. On ringing the doorbell, she is greeted by a mysterious man who calls himself Caligari (Dan O'Herlihy) and invites her in, offering her the services of his manservant to fix her car which she gratefully accepts. However, as he also offers her a bed for the night, there could be complications...

The Cabinet of Caligari was one of those tricksy little thrillers seemingly ushered in by the popularity of Alfred Hitchcock's groundbreaking horror Psycho and the success of The Twilight Zone on television, which appeared to make it a rule that everything with a mysterious or fantastical nature would have to have a twist ending or it just would not be worth its salt. It was all the more apt that the screenwriter of this should be, no, not Rod Serling, but Robert Bloch who was the author of the novel Psycho was based on, and in spite of eventually saying he'd rather be known as the author of the Bible, he did very well out of his creation's reputation.

Certainly his screenwriting career took off healthily, and The Cabinet of Caligari would have been a proud achievement but for one major snag: one of the producers took Bloch's script and rewrote the dialogue to make it more flowery and pretentious, much to the author’s chagrin. Bloch subsequently disowned the final result, but you could certainly see strong elements of his style with its obsession with psychology well to the fore, and how that could warp a mind into psychopathy or delusions. But the title was not his idea either, and only drew comparisons with the far better thought of silent German expressionist classic with which it bore a few similarities, but could not be termed a straight remake.

Not only was there no cabinet, but there was no Conrad Veidt equivalent here, stalking twisted corridors and abducting nightie-clad women, simply Glynis Johns finding she cannot get away from that country mansion she ended up staying the night in, and increasingly at a loss to explain why Caligari wishes to keep her there, the character of a twisted psychologist or psychiatrist one of the few solid comparisons you could identify with the almost-namesake. She meets a collection of oddballs who also appear unable to escape the building and its grounds thanks to locked gates, electrified fences and guard dogs, which offers some clue to what it actually going on, but what you could be sure of from the outset was oh, how they liked to talk.

You can't imagine Bloch's source screenplay would have spent so many pages delivering high-falutin' dialogue but that's what Johns and her co-stars were labouring under, and far from ramping up the tension it sapped the interest when they were essentially talking in circles as you were all too aware they would not resolve anything until the last ten minutes. Nevertheless, for the hardier viewer there were compensations, as Johns gave a fairly good account of herself as the victimised damsel in distress who can only come to her own rescue, and O'Herlihy, ever the professional, managed to pull off one of the main subterfuges with some skill. Richard Davalos, he of Smiths album cover fame, was a fairly stock leading man of the pretty boy persuasion whose identity is possibly more worrying at the end than it is at the beginning, and Estelle Winwood, little old lady extraordinaire, concocted one of her batty dames with her usual aplomb. But what this was really worth watching for was that finale, an LSD trip before such things entered the common parlance, though the concluding shot had a hint of ambiguity. Ominous music by Gerald Fried.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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