The Hands of Orlac
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Reuniting the star and director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, THE HANDS OF ORLAC (Orlacs Hände) is a deliciously twisted thriller that blends grand guignol thrills with the visual and performance styles of German Expressionism. Based on a novel by medical-horror novelist Maurice Renard, it charts the mental disintegration of a concert pianist (Conrad Veidt, The Man Who Laughs) whose hands are amputated after a train crash, and replaced with the hands of an executed murderer. When Orlac s father is murdered by the dead man s hands, Orlac begins a steady descent toward madness. Produced in Vienna, the hotbed of psychoanalysis, THE HANDS OF ORLAC is writhing with sexual innuendo and Freudian imagery. This Kino edition was mastered in HD from a 35mm print restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation, supplemented with additional footage from the Raymond Rohauer Collection.
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Besides the artistic element of using light and shadow, the highlight for me personally is Conrad Veidt's magnificent performance as Orlac, the concert pianist who receives the hands of a convicted murderer after being injured in a train wreck. This role is by far the most intensely expressive and emotion-packed performance I've seen by Veidt, and he carries the suspenseful energy of the story right through the entire film. More than just artistic expression however, "The Hands of Orlac" has a clever murder mystery theme running through it as well which deserves a little careful attention to fully appreciate. With excellent picture quality and very suitable music, this DVD is further enhanced with some bonus features including detailed notes with background information on the film and its cast and crew, as well as a trailer for its equally gripping 1935 sound remake "Mad Love" with Peter Lorre. Needless to say, "The Hands of Orlac" deserves its place alongside the best-known German silent classics, and it has been worth the wait to see the full length restored version released by Kino Video.
There is also an extremely interesting featurette on the DVD in which the restorer of ORLAC, Brett Wood, freely discusses the relative merits of the Murnau Stiftung 35mm print (MS) versus the Rohauer Collection 16mm (RC). It's informative and opened my eyes to a few things with silent movies, especially learning about how two cameras were used when filming. Wood makes for an excellent narrator.
Wood explains that the restoration uses the MS print largely because it's a sharper print, whereas the RC print is high in contrast but poor in definition. However watching the scenes on the featurette made me realise that in some ways the RC camera angles, speed and editing is often superior to the MS, despite the clarity. On balance I think the MS was a good choice - except for one decision that Wood took and that is not including the double exposure effect during Regine's confession in the final restoration. Wood correctly describes this alternative take as illustrating an hypnotic influence over Regine and I think it was a real mistake not to use it. Considering that we had already had a similar visual effect earlier on "haunting" Orlac's thoughts, it would seem appropriate to give continuity of effect and expression throughout the entire film, rather than just at the start. In fact, the odd request for Regine to "seduce" Orlac's hands (Elseasser makes even more sense now!) seems thoroughly bizarre without including this effect - why would someone in their right mind obey such a peculiar instruction if they were not in fact hypnotised?! But, then again we are talking Weimar Germany...
All debate aside, I thoroughly enjoyed ORLAC, and silent films fan will too!
This Movie Was Just Brilliant and Creepy, Love Conrad Veidt as an actor, also the Extras on this Disc are very good & full of information. (as with most KINO Lorber Home Video).
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