Robert Weine’s directing credit on THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI/‘20, that paradigm of German Cinematic Expressionism, has long seemed its most expendable creative element. An idea largely confirmed by his work on this oft-made, irresistible story about a famed concert pianist who loses his hands in a train crash, has experimental surgery to graft on a couple of replacements, than finds himself fighting for digital control only to discover that the matched pair came from a freshly executed murderer! And that the little darlings at the end of his arms have somehow retained a mind & a will of their own. Talk about muscle memory! But Weine makes everyone sleepwalk thru the story as if he were filming CALIGARI II. But without that film’s abstract designs & weird 2-dimensional scenery flats, along with its grotesque carnival air, his painfully stiff staging quickly turns soporific. The film might have been made in 1918. Things pick up a bit toward the end when a fresh murder leads to a series of shocking confessions & explanations (Hercule Poiret might have been stumped), but even Conrad Veidt’s onanistic wrist-wrestling and a recent film restoration out on KINO can’t bring this one to life.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Instead, try MAD LOVE/’35, where German cinema exiles Karl Freund & Peter Lorre do their bit for the Orlac story. It’s an uneven, but memorable pic, with Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) as an overwrought Orlac and striking visual intimations of CITIZEN KANE/’41.