The 1924 horror film The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände) reunited the star (Conrad Veidt) and director (Robert Wiene) of the 1920 masterpiece, The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari for yet another classic silent genre piece.
Based on the novel by Maurice Renard, The Hands Of Orlac sees Veidt play Paul Orlac, a brilliant concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Following a miracle operation, his hands are replaced with those of an executed killer. However when Orlac’s father is murdered, Orlac slowly begins to loose his sanity in the belief that he is now becoming a killer.
The Hands Of Orlac may not have the visual majesty of Robert Wiene’s previous expressionist horror, The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) – that’s because few movies do – but this is still as wonderful piece of silent cinema. Conrad Veidt is brilliant in the role of Orlac, his performance delivered through the power and might of his eyes and facial expressions. It’s a masterclass is silent acting from the time.
Remade several times over the years, The Hands Of Orlac features a captivating story which leads to a brilliant twist conclusion. It shows that Weine knew how to construct a narrative, while also delivering strong imagery in a time when the visual language of cinema was still being created.
The Hands Of Orlac gets its first-ever release in the UK on blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment‘s Masters Of Cinema series and (as usual) they’ve gone to town on the extras.
There’s a great commentary from author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman which is chatty and informative. There’s an insightful video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson and an alternate presentation of The Hands of Orlac from the F. W. Murnau Foundation – which was struck from a different print source and features alternate takes. These two versions are compared in a brilliant feature which illustrates some of the different variations between the two versions of the film. Brilliant!