THE HANDS OF ORLAC directed by Robert Wiene (Austria, 1924)
How do you follow up a bona fide silent classic like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari?
Well, it helps to have that movie’s star actor Conrad Veidt in the lead role for a start.
Here, Veidt plays a concert pianist who is gravely injured in a train crash.
Surgeons are forced to amputate the hands that are his livelihood but are able to sew on a new pair. The problem is that these come from Vasseur, a convicted killer who has just been executed.
On the day before the train crash. Orlac had written to his wife that he couldn’t wait to “feel your body beneath my hands”. When he learns that he has the mitts of a murderer he can’t bring himself to touch her or play the piano again.
He is convinced that the new body parts have also possession of his mind and feels cursed. To make matters worse, with the income from his concerts drying up, the creditors come calling.
His wife Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina) pleads Orlac’s case with his rich father to no effect and destitution awaits. Meanwhile a mystery stranger is on Orlac’s trail………..
Without being as stylised or riveting as Dr Caligari, this is still a fine expressionist melodrama. Wiene creates a brilliant shadowy atmosphere and Veidt makes the most of the highly contrived plot, looking suitably haunted and traumatised by the living nightmare while his mad-eyed wife can only look on helplessly.
You can currently see the full movie for free on You Tube: