Friday, 5 June 2015

HANDS OF A STRANGER













d. Newt Arnold (1962)


A noir-ish take on the much filmed Hands Of Orlac, this is a torrid tale of a self-obsessed concert pianist called Vernon Paris who has his hands mangled to buggery in a car crash. He is treated by an equally egocentric surgeon, who takes the decision to illegally graft the hands of a victim of a gangland slaying onto Paris’ bloodied stumps. The operation is a complete success, if you don’t count the bit where Rose goes insane and starts killing people, first by mistake, later by design. Oh, and afterwards he plays the piano like a chimp at a tea party, so that didn’t work either.

This is a terrifically entertaining film, filled with intense performances and clever but florid dialogue which goes a mile a minute and would probably call a spade a hand operated metal and wood earth penetrating excavation device. It’s also choc-a-bloc with clever camera work and punchy visual motifs, mostly hands and pianos and hands playing pianos. Everything is played in deadly earnest and without a scintilla of camp, which, of course, makes it all ten times better (and ten times camper).
Unlike the Orlac story, we never find out who the transplant hands belong to, so there is little emphasis on the hands as being evil or imbued with evil, although it does make you wonder why they spent the time establishing that the donor was a gangster if they weren’t going to use that as part of the story. Here, the supernatural is replaced by the practical, the psychological: put simply, the accident and transplant snap Paris’ already brittle mind, and drive him to kill over and over again (he breaks his victims fingers, then strangles them). This ripe exchange sort of marks the boundaries:

'If you're concerned with the possibility that the donor might have been some kind of madman, let me assure you that psychotic tendencies don't transfer themselves to the physical extremities after death!'

'You know that for a fact?'


'No, no, I don't!'


Need I say any more? Recommended.

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