Silent Movie Rule #16: Stay away from windows (especially if Conrad Veidt & Lon Chaney are in the cast)

cabinet of dr caligari

penalty-lon-chaney-silent-movie-scary-window

This is not what you want to see when you look out the window. Lon Chaney was the king of terrifying gazes. And, egad, it’s even worse when he smiles!

I have said if before and I will say it again: Chaney is justly praised for his makeup skills but it is his talent as an actor that really makes him frightening. He could be just as scary (or scarier) with no makeup at all.

(This GIF is from The Penalty, one of his best films. He plays a legless criminal mastermind determined to take over San Francisco. Straw hats are involved somehow. Just go with it. You can read my review here.)

cabiniet-of-dr-cailgari-animated-gif-the-bedroom-attack

The other fellow prone to sneaking in through windows was Conrad Veidt, called King of the Gooseflesh in Germany. Reportedly, his wife had an awful time hiring servants as they refused to work in a house owned by such a bloodthirsty monster. The great irony was that Veidt, for all his on-screen crimes, was supposed to be an absolute love in person.

(This GIF is, of course, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You can read my review/technical breakdown here.)

Availability: Both films are available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari just got an utterly gorgeous restoration and re-release. Seriously, the picture is so clear you can count the threads of Cesare’s sweater. Get it for yourself or the film buff who has everything. It also comes on DVD, if you have not made the high-def jump yet. The Penalty‘s new restoration only came out on Blu-ray but the older DVD edition is still pretty nice. (I should note, though, that the DVD does feature a rather controversial modern score. The Blu-ray switched it out for a more traditional orchestral arrangement.)

Crazy Dates of the Silent Era: Conrad Veidt has painted himself gold. Again. Animated GIF

indian-tomb-gold-veidt

So, you’re trying to woo and win the girl of your dreams. What to do? What to do? Well, have you tried painting yourself gold and wearing a frosted glass light fixture as a hat? You haven’t? Well, don’t come whining to me then.

Conrad Veidt is the heart and soul of The Indian Tomb, an epic that is as nutty as it is intriguing. Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou wrote the thing, Joe May directs. Veidt plays a maharajah (!) with an unfaithful wife and a tiger pit, which is a dangerous combination for all concerned. At this point in the story, Veidt is looking for love and feels that painting himself gold is the best option.

And for some of us, it is. (Back! Back, I say! He’s mine!)

(You can read my full-length review here.)

Availability: The Indian Tomb was released on DVD by Image. The disc is now out of print but is available used.

Silent Movie Trivia #15: The Indian Tomb (1921)

(click to view in lightbox)
(click to view in lightbox)

Joe May catches a lot of flak for this one. A lot of Fritz Lang fans have 20/20 hindsight and curse May for taking Lang off directing duties for this picture. First of all, I actually like May as a director. He’s very underrated, in my opinion. Second, Lang had been directing since 1919, less than two years of experience, and this film had quite a big budget. I can’t really blame May. After all, it was his money.

In any case, what other movie lets you ogle Conrad Veidt painted gold?

This film has the distinction of never quite succeeding. It was filmed three times, the last time by Lang himself, but the story never really seemed to catch on with audiences. Lang’s 1959 remake is mostly remembered today for Debra Paget dancing in extremely revealing costumes.

(You can read my review of both the silent version and its talkie remake here.)

Availability: The silent version of this film was restored and released on DVD by Image. This disc is currently out of print but is available used. The talkie remake is also out of print.

Unboxing the Silents: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Blu-Ray

Caligari Cover

I am pretty excited about this new restoration, let me tell you. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an astonishing film, a revered classic that more than lives up to its reputation. Yet, let’s be honest, the home media releases for this film have not been exactly pristine.

Availability

Available on DVD & Blu-ray.

Battered prints, marred by dust, streaks and lines have been the rule for bargain and more expensive releases. Even the best prints released have been a bit shabby and they have long been the only available ways to see this movie. I don’t mean to be a complainer but I have always felt that Caligari deserved better.

Fortunately, I was not the only one wishing for a restored film.

Our friends in Europe have been hard at work restoring an original camera negative (with 35mm prints filling in the gaps) of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and it is finally getting a U.S. release on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino Lorber. (The restoration is also available on DVD but I will be focusing on the HD version in this review.)

I dare say that most film buffs have seen this film but never before in this quality.

Oh, and I am reviewing the new disc release, not the film itself. For my review of the film’s artistic merit (spoiler: I like it) please check out my movie review here.

Just take a gander at this trailer!

Very nice!

The Look

The introduction states that the first reel of the camera negative was missing and the lost material was restored using release prints. As no German distribution prints exist, the tinting was based on Latin American prints, believed to be the earliest surviving material. Here is what the first reel looks like:

The opening scene
The opening scene

Pretty darn good.

And here is the restored camera negative:

The carnival
The carnival
What is in the cabinet?
What is in the cabinet?
Obligatory Conrad Veidt close-up
Obligatory Conrad Veidt close-up

Oooo!

The Music

The release comes with your choice of two scores. There is the orchestral version performed by the Studio For Film Music at the University of Music, Freiburg. You can hear a taste in the preview clip. I loved the score. Caligari scores too often head in a discordant direction but this one manages to have a smart blend of melody and dissonance.

The other score is a trippy, almost perky, electronic affair from Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky. I tend to like non-traditional scores but I definitely prefer the main score in this release. However, I do appreciate being given a choice.

Extras

The biggest extra is the 52-minute documentary, Caligari: How Horror Came to Cinema. I also rather enjoyed the two sets of comparison clips included to show how the restored Caligari compared to original footage and previous restorations.

Before and after
Before and after
Restoration comparison
Restoration comparison

Buy?

Yes, this is easily the best home media release for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I cannot recommend it enough. Buy it for yourself or the film buff who has everything. I am also pleased that Kino Lorber made this restoration available in both standard and HD formats, ensuring that almost everyone can enjoy this pristine experience.

***

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“Let us begin,” said Conrad Veidt. Animated GIF

last-performance-let-the-games-begin

People do not clap nearly enough today. Let me rephrase. They clap at concerts or at that stupid team-building retreat they have to go on or at a play but they do not clap to summon their minions or as a signal to begin a fiendish plan of murder and mayhem.

Of course Conrad Veidt has a fiendish plan of murder and mayhem. Could you ever doubt it? (This is from The Last Performance. Read my review here.)

I shall conclude matters by just saying more more thing: “Hubba!”

Availability: The Last Performance is available on DVD and Blu-ray, packaged as an extra with the part-talkie, Lonesome.

You too can perfect Conrad Veidt’s “Look of Doom” in three easy lessons! Animated GIF

last-performance-hypnotic-veidt

No one does the death stare better than Conrad Veidt. No one. I mean, behold it in all its glory! I certainly would not like to be on the receiving end, let me tell you. When Mr. Veidt looks like this, what follows usually involves stabbing, maiming and feeding grown men to tigers. He could really give lessons. Here is a sample syllabus:

Lesson 1: Glowering, Grimacing and General Menace

Lesson 2: Cover Girl for the Grumpy Boy

Lesson 3: Glow! Maybe he was born with it, maybe it’s radioactivity

(This is from The Last Performance, you can read my review here.)

Coincidentally, it is also the look I get on my face when people say that they do not like silent movies because they are silent movies.

Where is my tiger pit?

Availability: The Last Performance is available on DVD and Blu-ray, packaged as an extra with the part-talkie, Lonesome.

The Last Performance (1929) A Silent Film Review

Conrad Veidt is an illusionist who is in love with his assistant. Unfortunately, she falls for another, leaving Veidt in the dust. Now what will he do about that? Did I mention that he has an act that involves stabbing a trunk (and the person inside) with twelve sharp swords? You know, I think this just might figure into the story at some point.
Continue reading “The Last Performance (1929) A Silent Film Review”

Video Review: Waxworks (1924)

We’re heading back to Germany with something that often gets described as a carnival nightmare. I’m not sure if I would go so far but it is marvelously creepy and stylish. Paul Leni (The Cat and the Canary) designed and directed this beautiful film, which takes place in a wax museum. Future Hollywood director Wilhelm (William) Dieterle is the leading man, a writer who must come up with creepy tales for the exhibit. Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss and Emil Jannings play the wax men.

Continue reading “Video Review: Waxworks (1924)”

Conrad Veidt demonstrates the only proper way to walk down a dark alley in “Caligari” – Animated GIF

cabinet of dr caligari

cabinet-of-dr-cailgari-animated-gif-walk

This is just how it is done. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

Caligari co-star Lil Dagover later said that Conrad Veidt did not break character during the shoot and lurked through the hallways of the studio startling people. He said he did it for a better performance. but you can’t tell me he wasn’t having just a bit of fun playing the ghoul and scaring his friends.

Recommended

Fun Size Review: The Beloved Rogue (1927)

John Barrymore romps through medieval Paris playing a character best described as Robin Hood + Hobo + Bugs Bunny. His pranks cause him to run afoul of the crown. Conrad Veidt (in his American debut!) plays the king as a superstitious, nose-picking goblin. Oh, this movie is fabulous! It’s a double ham dinner with all the trimmings. Takes a turn for the serious near the end (boo!) but is an utter delight until then. One of silent Hollywood’s stranger offerings. See it.

Continue reading “Fun Size Review: The Beloved Rogue (1927)”

Waxworks (1924) A Silent Film Review

A young author (Wilhelm Dieterle) is hired by the owner of a wax museum to write tales about his most popular figures, Haroun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. Entranced by his new boss’s pretty daughter (Olga Belajeff) the author sets to work writing about the wax figures. With each new story, the author and his new friend find themselves pulled inside the progressively nightmarish worlds that he has invented.
Continue reading “Waxworks (1924) A Silent Film Review”

The Beloved Rogue (1927) A Silent Film Review

John Barrymore plays Francois Villon, the medieval French poet/thief who runs afoul of the eccentric King Louis XI (Conrad Veidt). But when the kingdom is threatened by the Duke of Burgundy, it is up to Villon to save the day. Oh, and there is naturally a lovely damsel. The most fun you can have in the Douglas Fairbanks manner without actually having Douglas Fairbanks participating.
Continue reading “The Beloved Rogue (1927) A Silent Film Review”