The Hands of Orlac (1924) – Robert Wiene

The next film The Movie Book from Dk Books recommends is Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This is a film I had previously reviewed so I checked out the Key Movies of his career as endorsed by this collection, and found, The Hands of Orlac.

A silent film from 1924, this is an unnerving body horror film with a dose of murder on the side that has been remade twice, and was still one I had never seen.

We are introduced to successful pianist Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) and his wife, Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina). Paul is on his way home after a concert tour, but horror and tragedy strike when the train he is on crashes.

His wife races to the site to find him, and once he is recovered from the wreckage he is taken to the closest hospital, where it is learned that they cannot save his hands. A procedure takes place, and Orlac is given new hands. But they may have belonged to a murderer before him.

Orlac is plagued by doubts and fears regarding his new hands, and is unwilling to touch his wife for fear of hurting her. As poverty falls upon them, things get even worse, when Paul’s father is found murdered, and it looks like Orlac, or at least his hands did it.

Veidt turns in a fine performance amongst the sparse, but massive sets, seemingly designed to illustrate everyone’s isolation. There are sequences where his hands seem to lead him, guiding him through his house, seemingly tempting him to crime and possibly murder.

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Circling this tale, and Orlac are threads of blackmail, strange experiments, and terrifying truths, and despite the improbability of some of the ‘science’ used to execute the story, it’s still a scary tale.

Wiene uses the massive sets, his penchant for odd lighting and shots and the very creepy story to push the dark buttons in our soul. Sure the title cards are filled with some less than stellar dialogue, and the emoting and melodrama of the silent age are on full display, but it all works.

This one is creepy, and the film keeps that unnerving sensation up through the entire film, until the last minutes of the film as the climax plays out, and things are revealed.

I’m a little troubled by the character of Yvonne, it’s clear she loves her husband, but she apparently loves his hands more, still Sorina like Veidt does well with the material that is given to her.

A surprisingly unnerving film that stands up to this day, and another fine choice provided by DK Books’ The Movie Book. Pick up your copy today, dig in, and find something new (or old) to watch.

Discover cinema.

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