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By Phil Hall | May 31, 2009

Robert Wiene, the German director best known for his groundbreaking silent feature “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari,” joined forces with the Moscow Art Theatre Players for this rarely revived 1923 adaptation of the Dostoyevsky classic. Why is it rarely revived? When you see it, you will know immediately.

In many ways, this was a bad idea from the get-go: Wiene’s penchant for Expressionistic excesses coupled with the absence of sound created a work that puts an emphasis on visual weirdness at the expense of the complex philosophical concerns raised in Dostoyevsky’s text. It also doesn’t help that Gregory Khmara is too mature and healthy to be the young, starving student Raskolnikov – his performance, along with his Muscovite comrades, places a heavy emphasis on eye-rolling/teeth-gritting pantomime that often veers into unintentional burlesque.

A word of warning: this DVD does not offer a restored print. Instead, the archival print is used, and it would be charitable to say that its visual quality is one level above unwatchable. But even a properly restored print would only place greater focus on the film’s significant problems.

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