Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Hands of Orlac (1924) Review

The Hands of Orlac poster
Director: Robert Wiene
Stars: Conrad Veidt
Genre: German Expressionism, Horror, Mystery

Directed by Robert Wiene, who also directed the much more popular Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He does a great job with this film too, which has inspired many remakes and films since.

The story follows a pianist, Orlac, who is in a bad train wreck and has his hands badly injured, permanently preventing him from ever playing again. This is something Orlac cannot live with so the doctor preforms a hand transplant surgery. But, Orlac gets the hands of a recently executed murderer. Orlac then believes that these hands are cursed and that they are driving him to do terrible things.

It's a story that we've seen repeated many times since, not only in remakes (Mad Love, and the 1960 film of the same name) but has also inspired many films such as Hands of a Stranger, The Beast with Five Fingers, or The Hand. But this film itself was actually based on a novel by Maurice Renard.

The story is a bit slow paced and melodramatic, but there are plenty of plot twists added (as Wiene seems to love) to keep it interesting. A lot of the shots are very lengthy and could have probably been significantly shortened, but it's not too bad. The film takes its time, which is good if you have patience and a solid attention span.

The sets here aren't as artful and extravagant as the twisted and surreal sets of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but they are still very impressive in their own way. The exteriors and interiors of every building give off a very Gothic feel, especially the home of Orlac's father. The scene with the wrecked train was very convincing as well.

The cinematography is excellent. There are a lot of shots here that are ahead of its time. From intentional unfocused shots, to a scene that was shot through flowers. Every scene is well put together. My favorite bit was when Orlac dreamed he was being punched by a giant hand. It's a very visually pleasing film, as all Expressionist films should be. I think the film's stills speak for themselves.

The giant hand punching a dreaming Orlac in The Hands of Orlac

The film undoubtedly has a very great atmosphere.  

The music compliments the film perfectly, rather than just being added on for the hell of it. At times it can build some very good tension and suspense.

Orlac gazes upon his monstrous hands

The acting here, though over the top as all silent films are, is very good. There is a lot of emotion portrayed on screen and can sometimes even be frightening. Veidt does a fabulous job. Orlac, though it's hard to call him the antagonist, is very scary, especially his hands, which makes sense due to the film's name. His hands are long and slender and are constantly bulging with veins. Orlac was played by Conrad Veidt, who also played Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The ending was a bit unsatisfying. It was cheap and overly convenient...unrealistic even. It did good in one regard though: in showing us the psychological power that can change a man's reality.

Great set design and atmosphere in The Hands of Orlac

I can definitely recommend this film to just about anyone.

4/5 stars
Pros:
+Great cinematography
+Great sets and atmosphere
+Complimentary music
+Emotional and engaging acting
Cons:
-Very slow
-Unsatisfying ending

Purchase The Hands of Orlac on Amazon: DVD - Stream
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