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Orlacs Hände

Entry updated 9 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1924; vt The Hands of Orlac). Pan Film. Directed by Robert Wiene. Written by Louis Nerz, based on Les mains d'Orlac (15 May-12 July 1920 L'Intransigeant; 1921; trans as The Hands of Orlac 1929; new trans 1981) by Maurice Renard. Cast includes Carmen Cartellieri, Fritz Kortner, Alexandra Sorina and Conrad Veidt. 92 minutes, cut to 70 minutes. Black and white.

In this Austrian film from the director of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919), a pianist whose injured hands have been replaced with those of an executed murderer inherits also the murderer's homicidal tendencies, and must struggle against the domination of the dead man. The central idea is scientifically absurd, but it has an emotional logic and has attracted several film-makers. The best version is the US remake Mad Love (1935; vt The Hands of Orlac), which deviates somewhat from Renard's silly novel, shifting the emphasis from pianist to surgeon. It was directed by Karl Freund (best known as a brilliant cameraman) from a script by Guy Endore, P J Wolfson and John L Balderston, and starred Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, 70 minutes, black and white. Lorre – in one of his few truly great performances and one of his first after arriving in the USA – plays the demented surgeon who grafts the murderer's hands onto a pianist whose wife he loves, and then attempts to drive him insane by masquerading as the executed murderer back from the dead. This stylish, Grand Guignol melodrama still seems stunning half a century later.

2. Two later remakes were produced – one using the original title The Hands of Orlac (1960; vt Les mains d'Orlac; vt Hands of a Strangler) and the other called Hands of a Stranger (1963). The former was a UK-French coproduction made in two versions, the UK version directed by Edmond T Greville, the French directed by Jacques Lemare, both versions starring Mel Ferrer, Lucille Saint Simon, Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence, Dany Carrel, Felix Aylmer, Basil Sydney and Donald Wolfit, with screenplay by John Baines and Grenville, 105 minutes cut to 95 minutes, black and white. The latter film was US, written and directed by Newton Arnold, starring Paul Lukather, Joan Harvey, 86 minutes cut to 73 minutes, black and white. Both versions, particularly the latter, are distinctly inferior to Mad Love. [JB/PN]


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