The Hands of Orlac
Today marks the anniversary of the original German release date of The Hands of Orlac (1924), the first and probably the best of the “evil hand” movies.
This kind of story benefits from the fairy tale simplicity of silence, and in this case, the dreamlike nature of German Expressionism, directed by Robert Weine. Conrad Veidt is the concert pianist who loses his hands in railway accident. A doctor gives him the hands of an executed robber/murderer. The knowledge hounds the patient. He refuses to touch his wife. He can’t play the piano anymore. He feels that he is haunted. He becomes fascinated with knives. A man is hovering around in the shadows who seems to be the deceased criminal. Eventually he shows himself, kills the pianist’s father and frames him. The man claims to be the executed man, now with prosthetic hands, and a head miraculously restored through an operation similar to the one which restored his hands. (The story set in France, where the method of execution was the guillotine, explaining the decapitation). But the villain is caught by the police in the end and Orlac learns that he is not the beheaded criminal but the assistant of the doctor who operated on him, who has a criminal past, and had some gloves made with the criminal’s fingerprints. Orlac is relieved and can finally embrace his wife.
For more on silent film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.