Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac) (1924)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

The Hands of Orlac was originally supposed to play during the Thon, but the print didn't make it (or something?) so I didn't get to see it. Which was fine, actually, because its intended 4AM time slot would not have worked given its length and slow pacing. Adapted from the novel by Maurice Renard, the film details the experiences of renowned concert pianist Orlac (Conrad Veidt) after he's injured in a massive train accident. His wife Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina) begs the doctor to save his hands above all else, and so an experimental surgery is performed that replaces Orlac's hands with those of a recently-hanged convicted murderer. Haunted by the origin of his new hands, he becomes convinced that they're turning him into a criminal.

I'll admit I expected something more sensationalist given the premise of this movie. I thought it would be all bug-eyed murdering and wacky visions but actually it's mostly a depressing drama about a guy who's going insane and the wife who has to deal with it. The story moves slowly, gradually revealing Orlac's horrific realization about the supposed power of his hands and the desires they might instill in him. He's haunted by strange dreams and the ghost of the convict, and feels his own hands are so alien that he won't even touch his beloved Yvonne. He worries that this paranormal presence is causing him to change, and to possibly commit criminal acts in his sleep. He spends so much time brooding and staring manically at his hands that his household goes bankrupt, and Yvonne is the only person man enough to handle things. And then towards the end it turns into this unexpected mystery thing.

Maybe if my expectations had been different I wouldn't have been a little disappointed with The Hands of Orlac. It's just... slow, really, which is fine, but not what I was feeling, I guess. I did come out liking it, just not as much as I wanted to. I enjoyed the performances of Veidt and Sorina, who have scintillating sexual chemistry, as well as the devious turn from Fritz Kortner. There's a good twist at the end and a surprisingly strong emotional drive throughout, and generally the tale is interesting even it's much more subdued that I had anticipated. I really liked the score as well, with its thumping piano and shrill strings, though I can't say if it's the original (I watched the version on netflix instant).

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well the Robert Wiene/Conrad Veidt connection had me wanting to revisit The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, so that can be your German Expressionist double feature for the day.

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