In Paris, the great surgeon Dr. Gogol falls madly in love with stage actress Yvonne Orlac, and his ardor disturbs her quite a bit when he discovers to his horror that she is married to concert pianist Stephen Orlac. Shortly thereafter, Stephen's hands are badly crushed in a train accident- beyond the power of standard medicine. Knowing that his hands are his life, Yvonne overcomes her fear and goes to Dr. Gogol, to beg him to help. Gogol decides to surgically graft the hands of executed murderer Rollo onto Stephen Orlac, the surgery is successful but has terrible side-effects... Written by
Ken Yousten <email@example.com>
This is a forgotten film one doesn't see too often. TCM showed it recently as part of their Halloween programming and frankly, it shows clearly how Karl Freund was ahead of his times. Mr. Freund had a long career as a cinematographer; it helps he had an eye for atmosphere and detail, as proved in this film.
The sets and costumes reflect the genius of the team behind the camera, led by Karl Freund. The black and white photography greatly enhances the film. There's a scene at the beginning of the movie where one can see Dr. Gogol, played with immense panache by Peter Lorre, seated in one of the boxes in the theatre. We only see half of his face, because the other half hidden in shadows. We get a sense of evil with only a minimal of lighting and gesture in the sinister figure of Dr. Gogol.
The movie is a mystery suspense, not to be classified as a horror film because the gory details are kept at a minimum, but at the same time, we are shown brilliant frightening moments throughout the picture.
Peter Lorre shines in this film; he carries the movie. Mr. Lorre had excellent parts in other films that followed, but in this film, as well as in "M" he showed a talent and an understanding about the person he is supposed to be. In a way, not having the good looks to be cast in other roles, he became a secondary character actor in the succeeding years.
Frances Drake, as Yvonne Orlac, is awfully good. She's the object of Gogol's affections, but she loves the man that is transformed by the doctor, after a tragic accident. Colin Clive as Stephen Orlac, is quite effective as the pianist who knows a lot about knives. Ted Healy makes a funny appearance as Regan, the reporter in search of sensationalism. Sara Haden, as Marie, Dr Gogol's maid, is excellent as the maid from hell.
Of course, the movie is perhaps Karl Freund's best because in 69 minutes he achieves to do a movie that is fascinating to watch because of the superb acting of Mr. Lorre.
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