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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)
One of the real classics of Expressionism -- even the Americans think so, to judge from the fact that they've remade it (badly) several times. To be sure, the premise won't stand examination (but then, it's horror), and a modern viewer may find it hard to adjust to the actors' Expressionist grimacing. However, the movie is consistently suspenseful due to its heavy dark atmosphere and communication of mental torment. The fear of one's own body is a dynamite theme if it's as well presented as it is here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was my first viewing of The Hands of Orlac, though I had earlier
seen (and very much enjoyed) Karl Freund's 1935 version of the story,
"Mad Love", with Peter Lorre. I was very impressed with Robert Wiene's
famous "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", but I have not seen anything else
by this director, so I was hopeful that I would enjoy this movie. And I
did, very much.
Conrad Veidt stars as a concert pianist (Orlac) on his way home to see his beloved Yvonne (played by Alexandra Sorina) when he is involved in a train accident, nearly dies but is saved by medical science with one catch-his hands have been damaged beyond repair, so the surgeon transplants them with those of an executed murderer. Soon after, Orlac begins to have thoughts of killing people-could it be the murderer's hands that are causing this? The Kino version I watched had a surprisingly good video transfer from the source material, and everything looked good, considering the age of the film. The music, primarily strings, by Paul Mercer was eerie and appropriate, though at times it was a bit overbearing and distracted from the visual experience. I also found that it got a bit monotonous after awhile, but perhaps that was just me.
This film seemed to have a lot more romance between Veidt and Sorina, and was likely almost racy at the time, than did "Mad Love". From the love letters at the beginning of the film to the interactions between the two, one gets a sense of the love and romance that is there, especially early on. Indeed, you see a loving couple trying to cope with a severe tragedy.
Conrad Veidt is a man that I would not want to meet alone in a dark alley. His performances as Cesare in "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and as Orlac in this film are effective in creating menacing and horrifying characters. He seems so naturally creepy that one wonders how much is acting. While his acting may seem over the top and exaggerated to the modern viewer, I think that this is necessary given the silent medium in which he worked.
Robert Wiene uses a very different style from the exaggerated angles and blatantly surreal sets of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". In the "Hands of Orlac", there is still a wonderful use of the contrast of light and darkness, but the settings are much more stark and much more real, which seems to fit the overall story well. And there were some surreal scenes that I found quite creepy-the disembodied head of the executed Vasseur staring at Orlac's hands in the hospital is one example.
One of the few criticisms I might have of this film is the pacing. Wiene seems to take far longer to get to the point than he needs to at times, and this slows down the film unnecessarily. For instance, there is a remarkable scene of the aftermath of the train accident. It is beautifully shot, and looks very real, as if from an old newsreel, but it just takes too long. The scene sets up the premise for the rest of the story, but it could have been just as effective if it was cut short.
I enjoyed this film and would recommend it to those who like old silent horror movies.
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.
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")
Ah, what aristocratic days are these!!... These modern times of the new
21st century have many similarities to the old youthful times that Herr
Graf spent in Deutschland at the beginning of the ancient 20th century;
that is to say, during those days the world had a tremendous financial
crisis not to mention the menace of a world flu pandemic. It seemed
appropriate then that Herr Von decided to revisit those memories by
watching at the Schloss theatre a strange, oppressive film, a picture
that reflected those times and the aristocratic mood. A perfect soirée,
indeed!... The film was "Orlacs Hände" (1924) by Herr Robert Wiene.
It was a pleasure ( you have to know that German aristocrats have fun in a different and dark way .. ) to watch again such a classic Expressionist masterpiece. Thanks are owed to the longhaired youngsters at Kino who did an excellent restoration of this old nitrate which includes a bearable music score by Herr Paul Mercer that helps one to suppress the memory of the terrible score that was included some time ago in another release of the film; that music was scarier than the film itself.
Even today, to watch "Orlacs Hände" is a disturbing experience aside from appreciating its Expressionist values. Early in the film, the train crash sequence is full of dark and impressive shots that capture the confusion, warning the audience that this is a special oeuvre. It bespeaks a terrible chaos, uncertainty and darkness that engulfs the viewer in an oppressive, tormented atmosphere.
Due to the train crash, Herr Orlac ( Herr Conrad Veidt ) our hero will suffer horrible wounds to body and soul. The physical scars heal up but the psychological wounds are more difficult to overcome, especially when Herr Orlac discovers that his new hands belonged to an assassin. This marks the beginning of a terrible "tour de force" between body and soul that will torment Herr Orlac throughout the film. His fragility is challenged by pain and suffering and though solace and calm ultimately prevail he must first face constant uncertainty, delirium and the threat of insanity.
The Expressionist shadows, appropriately enough, surround the main characters ( The performances by the great Herr Veidt and Dame Alexandra Sorina are also in the Expressionist manner ) and their habitats; their home, at the hospital, and in the streets. An oppressive, morbid, gloomy atmosphere prevails and suits perfectly a story of wicked impulses and disturbed minds.
Hands demanding crimes, the weakness of the human will, blackmail from an unscrupulous criminal, a medical experiment, a father who hates his son such are the subjects in "Orlacs Hände", an unnerving masterpiece and the perfect aristocratic silent film choice for a cloudy soirée in these 21st uncertain times.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must lend a hand in this time of crisis by drinking only a glass of Rhine white wine instead of the whole bottle.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
Flirting with a (then) science fictional theme of body part
transplantation, the film explores the feelings of a concert pianist,
who having lost his hands in a train wreck, receives a new pair of
hands that belonged to an executed murderer. Austrian director Robert
Weine, who created the landmark 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919)
here reunites with and directs its star, Conrad Veidt, as the tormented
pianist Paul Orlac.
The camera focuses on Veidt's many moods and reactions to his plight -- his hands are not capable of his concert abilities, and he feels that they are taking him over with thoughts and deeds of crime and murder. He does an outstanding job, but too much of the film is slowly paced. From the beginning extended train crash rescue, on through scene after scene of Orlac's, his wife's and the maid's over the top Expressionistic gesturing, the scenes seem to go on too long.
This slow pace is exaggerated by the lack of camera movement (everything is mostly wide shots with little tracking), the wonderfully and effectively spooky new musical score (on the KINO 2008 version), that sometimes lacks verve and variety, as well as the extensive time spent on the actors' Expressionist movements.
The film certainly has its high points. It's great to see an entire film shot in shadows and low light, all with Gothic sets. This is great German Expressionism. If you can relax and just go with the pace of the film, you can really enjoy the acting of Conrad Veidt-- whose hands keep getting creepier and scarier.
If it were cut to about sixty minutes to pick up the pace, it would be easier to enjoy and to see the great care that went into its creation and execution.
I'll have to give it a six.
This is not a great movie, I admit. Certainly the acting is bizarre
(though often moving) and the rhythm takes getting used to. But I
thought I would put in a good word based on a recent viewing
experience. I am not rating it high but I really enjoyed it a lot.
6 or 7 years ago I went on a Conrad Veidt spree and bought copies of some his silents from an ebay seller/devotee. The quality varied and I recall that he particularly apologized for this item, which was barely viewable. All you could really see was Veidt's face... The other night TCM showed the Kino restoration and I sat down to see the film "for real." It was a pleasure to be able to take in the wonderful decors and costumes, and to get a relatively coherent version of the plot. The train wreck scene is stirring. And Veidt's face, again, as he progresses from sensitive soul to tormented monstrosity... In short, it was very rewarding.
Interesting and well made German silent version of Maurice Renard's
novel "Les Mains d'Orlac" from the same folks behind the highly
regarded expressionist classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920).
Conrad Veidt gives an outstanding, creepy and memorable dramatic
performance as the tormented Orlac, a famous pianist whose hands are
replaced by those of an executed thief and murderer after a train
accident. He soon begins to think he's not only received a maniac's
hands, but also his desire to commit crimes. The cavernous and sparsely
decorated interiors as well as the typically exaggerated performances
often give this the feel of a theatrical production, and while the
movie is a little overlong and slow-going (definitely requires a more
patient type of viewer to appreciate it), it's still worthwhile for
Veidt's amazing performance, some nice visuals and a surprise twist
ending. I also need to point out that the Kino DVD of the film runs 110
minutes, though it is listed here as running just 98. Bonus features on
the disc include scene comparisons of domestic and international cuts,
excerpts of Renard's Novel, an essay by author John Soister, a trailer
and an image gallery.
The same tale would later be the basis for 1935's MAD LOVE (starring the inimitable Peter Lorre) and 1960's THE HANDS OF ORLAC (starring Mel Ferrer, and also with supporting turns from Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasence), as well as the uncredited basis for 1962's HANDS OF A STRANGER and several other films.
I saw Orlacs Hände at the Ghent filmfestival this year with a live score. I must say I thought it was very good, although I didn't agree with the new score all the time... The story is both simple and ridiculous (like any good scare movie): A world renown pianist loses his hands in a trainaccident and gets a transplant from a convicted criminal. The hands of course take over or do they. This film does not excell in great acting or storytelling but more in the subtle building of an atmosphere that becomes so haunting that it nearly becomes unbearable. If you like horror movies from the silent age, without blood or gore but with loads of atmosphere, then this is an absolute must-see.
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