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Dr. Caligari is the titular main antagonist in the 1920 legendary silent era film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema and the first horror film of all time.

Though the film is notorious for its twist ending, which reveals that Dr. Caligari isn't actually evil at all, the original intention wasn't that, lacking such ending and keeping Dr. Caligari as a genuine villain. Other than that, there were also some attempts for sequels to the film featuring Dr. Caligari once more, but these ended in nothing.

He was portrayed by the late Werner Krauss in the final project.

Biography

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Original ending

The movie's overall story focuses on a man named Francis and his girlfriend Jane uncovering the truth behind the act of Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare, whom Caligari sends to kill people during night, like Francis' friend Alan. When Francis and Jane try to investigate further, Caligari sends Cesare to kidnap Jane, leading Francis and his friends to rescue her after discovering that Caligari had made a dummy of Cesare to mislead them, believing himself to be the reincarnation of a late monk who used a sonambulist to kill people back in 1703. In the end, Dr. Caligari's crimes are finally exposed by Francis and the doctors, leading Dr. Caligari to be restrained in a straitjacket and locked up in his own insane asylum, putting an end to Cesare's killing spree once and for all. However, the iconic twist ending reveals that Dr. Caligari isn't really evil; in fact, Francis is an inmate of the mental asylum and Caligari is his doctor, who believes he can cure him.

However, such twist ending wasn't originally intended at all. Originally, the movie's story would have been composed solely by the flashback sequence and there was no epilogue which revealed the whole story to be Francis' delusions, ending with Caligari's imprisonment and Francis winning over Jane's heart. Thus, Dr. Caligari and Cesare were actually real villains and their threat was genuine just like their crimes throughout the film. After all, the film's original inspiration was the military hospitals during World War I when "malingering" soldiers were confined under manipulative doctors.

However, an executive of Universum Film AG, believed to be Fritz Lang, who was originally attached to direct, came up with the idea of making the film a frame story, with a prologue and a twist ending which reveals the whole story actually being the delusion of a madman, even though the film's message was intended to how people with power could force others to do against their bidding their will, leaving them unresponsive shells who were a slave to the whims of those in power. However, as many historians believe, the change was likely done because the audiences of that time were uncomfortable with the possibility of questioning authority.

Attempted sequels

Following the success of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, there were several attempts to produce sequels. Remakes were also considered, with Robert Wiene, Erich Pommer and Hans Janowitz expressing interest on the possibility, which never got off the ground. Following his failure to produce a Caligari remake, Janowitz planned a sequel entitled Caligari II, which he didn't succeed in selling it to a Hollywood producer for $30,000. Circa 1947, plans for a Caligari sequel entitled The Return of Dr. Caligari were made, with a script written by German filmmaker Ernst Matray and his wife Maria Solveg. In the planned sequel, Dr. Caligari would have been reimagined as a former Nazi officer and a war criminal. However, the film was never produced.

Trivia

  • In the original ending intended for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr. Caligari wouldn't have been a Karma Houdini like in the finished film.

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