From Caligari to Hitler

First edition
(publ. Princeton University Press)

From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film is a book by film critic and writer Siegfried Kracauer, published in 1947.


This book in film theory is considered one of the first major studies of German film between World War I and World War II. Among other things, the book is known for proposing a link between the apolitical and escapist orientation of Weimar-era cinema and the totalitarianism which followed in German society.


The book is a survey covering four major periods: The Archaic Period (1895–1918), The Postwar Period (1918–1924), The Stabilized Period (1924–1929) and The Pre-Hitler Period (1930–1933). The book also includes Propaganda and the Nazi War Film, a critical and psychological analysis of Nazi propaganda film. That particular section was a reprint of a pamphlet of the same name released by the Museum of Modern Art in 1942. As Kracauer was a film critic at the time many of the films he discusses were first released, he melds his theory of trends in the film market with political tendencies within the German social politics.

In the book, Kracauer postulates the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari can be considered as an allegory for German social attitudes in the period following World War I. He argues that the character of Caligari represents a tyrannical figure, to whom the only alternative is social chaos represented by the fairground.[1]

Funded by Museum of Modern Art as well as a Rockefeller Foundation grant, From Caligari to Hitler is considered to be among the most important works on the subject of German cinema, standing with Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960) as classic scholarship.


In Weimar Cinema and After, Thomas Elsaesser describes the legacy of Kracauer's work as a "historical imaginary".[2] Elsaesser argues that Kracauer had not studied enough films to make his thesis about the social mindset of Germany legitimate and that the discovery and publication of the original screenplay of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari undermines his argument about the revolutionary intent of its writers. Elsaesser's alternative thesis is that the filmmakers adopted an Expressionist style as a method of product differentiation, establishing a distinct national product against the increasing importation of American films. Dietrich Scheunemann, somewhat in defense of Kracauer, noted that he did not have "the full range of materials at (his) disposal". However, that fact "has clearly and adversely affected the discussion of the film", referring to the fact that the script of Caligari was not rediscovered until 1977 and that Kracauer hadn't seen the film for around 20 years when he wrote the work.[3]


  1. ^ Kracauer, Siegfried (2004). From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film. Princeton University Press.
  2. ^ Elsaesser, Thomas (2000). Weimar Cinema and After: Germany's Historical Imaginary. Routledge.
  3. ^ Scheunemann, Dietrich (2003). "The Double, the Decor, the Framing Device: Once More on Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". In Scheunemann, Dietrich (ed.). Expressionist Films: New Perspectives. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 1-57113-068-3.