The Hands of Orlac
Crime / Horror / Mystery
The Hands of Orlac
Crime / Horror / Mystery
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Orlac is a world famous pianist. One day he is badly hurt in a big train wreck. He is in danger of losing both his hands so his wife begs the doctors to save them. They eventually manage to transplant his hands with those of another deceased person. After his recovery Orlac discovers that there is something seriously wrong with his new pair of hands -- it is as if they had a will of their own. But Orlac doesn't know that they actually belonged to a dangerous murderer. —Aljaz Ciber, Slovenia.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
Oct 01, 2021 at 12:12 AM
grade Movie Reviews
THE HANDS OF ORLAC (Robert Wiene, 1924) ***
I'm glad I had this chance to check out yet another German Expressionist classic even if I had to make do with faint Spanish subtitles over the original German intertitles (then again, the narrative is easy enough to follow)! It took me some time to warm up to the film: the pace is extremely sluggish (the aftermath of the train-wreck at the beginning seemed interminable), while the all-important decision to exchange the damaged hands of famed concert pianist Orlac with those of a murderer felt too abrupt.In preparation for this review, I re-read Michael Elliott's comments on the film: while I generally concur with his opinion, at this stage I wouldn't put this above the 1935 Karl Freund/Peter Lorre/Colin Clive remake MAD LOVE (Ted Healy's intrusive comedy relief, to me, is just about the only negative element in that film while adding Dr. Gogol's obsessive yearning for Orlac's wife, hence the new title). Still, I was surprised by how much the later film actually followed the Silent version especially the two scenes in which Orlac meets the 'executed' murderer of the Maurice Renard story; another remake appeared in 1960, co-starring Christopher Lee and which I watched on Italian TV not too long ago but already can hardly remember anything about it! Conrad Veidt's lanky figure and stylized approach to acting perfectly suited the requirements of the leading role (his posture generally echoing that of Cesare the Somnambulist in the same director's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI ); the expressionist sets were also notable but the film's style is generally an internalized one in that it deals primarily with Orlac's state of mind filming him in tight shots whenever possible. However, the avant-garde score which accompanied the Grapevine Video edition I watched was a matter of taste featuring a female vocalist who frequently attempted to simulate the various characters' emotions with an annoying array of wails, shrieks and faint whispers! It's unfortunate, too, that the backlog I have of unwatched films on DVD doesn't permit me to check out the Kino edition of CALIGARI for the moment especially since it contains a lengthy condensed version of another intriguing Wiene title, GENUINE: A TALE OF A VAMPIRE (1920)
A Gothic and Dark German Expressionist Film
The pianist Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) is on tour and his wife Yvonne Orlac (Alexandra Sorina) anxiously waits for his return. While traveling back home, there is a train wreck at Montgeron and Orlac is very injured in both hands in the accident.Yvonne begs to Dr. Serral (Hans Homma) to save his hands that are his life. Meanwhile, the robber and murderer Vasseur that claims that is innocent is sentenced to death since the police investigator had found his fingerprints everywhere near the victim. Dr. Serral transplants Vasseur's hands in Orlac and when he recovers, he feels that there is something wrong with his hands.Orlac asks the surgeon about the hands and learns that he belonged to a criminal, and Orlac decides to never touch Yvonne again with those hands. His family becomes poor since he is not working anymore and Yvonne pays a visit to her father-in-law (Fritz Strassny) to ask for help. However, Orlac's father is a cruel man and does not help her. When Orlac returns home, Yvonne asks him to visit his father and when he arrives at his house, he finds his father dead. They call the police and they find Vasseur's fingerprint everywhere. Orlac is the only heir of his father fortune but sooner he is followed by a stranger named Nera (Fritz Kortner) that blackmails him and demands a small fortune. Orlac is not sure that he had killed his father and goes with Yvonne to the police. Sooner they discover a secret about Vasseur."Orlacs Hände" is a Gothic and dark German Expressionist film with an unbelievable plot (but who matters?) but wonderful theatrical performances like in most silent classics and perfect use of shadows in a gloomy atmosphere. The music score fits perfectly to the film and this is the first time that I watch this little masterpiece. My vote is eight.Title (Brazil): "As Mãos de Orlac" ("The Hands of Orlac")
Excellent performances, ponderous pacing needs better musical score
I've been looking for a DVD of THE HANDS OF ORLAC ever since I knew the film existed. Now it's finally here, and like most silent films it's a mixed bag. I find the image on the new KINO disc to be acceptable considering the problematic nature of the source material. There's a loss of definition in some scenes, but there are also moments of sharpness in the restored Murnau Foundation print. It's a shame we can never experience non-talking films the way 1920s audiences did, without washed-out contrasts, image-flickers, frame-jitters, dirt, and print damage. Even the best restorations don't look new.The plot concerns a concert pianist whose hands are smashed in a train wreck. A surgeon replaces them with the hands an executed criminal. Soon the pianist is obsessed with thoughts he might be a killer. The performances are generally excellent in the Expressionistic style. Conrad Veidt's exaggerated grimacing as his character Paul Orlac approaches madness is tempered by moments that are extremely moving.The score of mostly string music on the KINO disc is creepy and works well for a while, but is so monotonous over the entire length of an already ponderously paced film that I grew tired of it. This film cries out for music that varies its mood to fit what is happening on screen. Contrasts in the mood of the music would make the creepy parts seem even creepier. An optional score in a traditional style would have been nice. Nevertheless, the Gothic set design and shadow-infested cinematography by Gunther Krampf - particularly the scenes at Orlac's father's house - create the atmosphere we know and love in early horror films. These chiaroscuro light-and-shadow effects just cannot be achieved with color.However, to evoke fear without the modern cheats of gore and violence - to create what the Germans call "stimmung" (mood) - requires not only imaginative lighting and set design, but time. Unfortunately director Robert Weine spends too much time on the actors' very deliberate expressionistic movements at the expense of pacing.The ending is likewise unsatisfactory, although it does follow Maurice Renard's novel. I won't give too much away other than to say the ending undercuts an apparently fantastic element, yet makes the "logical" explanation seem almost as implausible. Nevertheless, the build-up to the resolution as well as Veidt's engrossing performance makes this a worthwhile, if uninspired, film.
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