In France, an insane surgeon's obsession with an actress from England leads him to replace her pianist husband's hands that got mangled in an accident with the hands of a late knife murderer which still have the urge to throw knives.
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>
After its initial release, 15 minutes were cut from the film, including the pre-credit warning to the audience and the surgery to obtain Rollo's hands. See more »
Throughout the picture, the wax figure moves slightly whenever Frances Drake is subbing for the actual statue. Most noticeable when the bird lands on her shoulder, making the "lifeless" statue sway. See more »
Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) is a brilliant surgeon who is obsessed with actress Yvonne Orlac (Francis Drake). She tells him she is leaving the stage to be a full time wife to her husband Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), a concert pianist. Gogol is crushed. Stephen Orlac loses his hands in a train wreck.
At the request of Yvonne, Orlac grafts on a new pair of hands to Stephen. Unfortunately, they happen to be the hands of Rollo, an executed murderer who loved throwing knives. It seems the hands have a life of their own--Stephen can't play the piano anymore but can throw knives accurately and he has a desire to kill. He slowly starts to go crazy. Gogol again tells Yvonne that he loves her. She rejects him and Gogol cracks. He sets out to drive Stephen mad--and drive Yvonne into his arms.
The plot is silly but it still works. Anyways, the film isn't respected for its plot--it's because of Lorre and the sets. The sets in this film are huge, designed very strangely and add to the weirdness of the plot. They're all dimly lit giving the film a dark, depressing look. The acting is almost all good. Drake is just beautiful and perfect as the suffering wife. Clive is way too serious and looks horrible--sadly the man suffered from alcoholism...and it shows. Lorre is just superb as Gogol. He's very severe looking with his shaved head. You see him start out as kindly but obsessed and slowly slip into madness. Also there's a genuinely terrifying meeting Orlac has with Gogol (disguised as someone else) in a hotel. And director Karl Fruend throws in an amusing in joke--someone's repeats the "It went for a little walk" line from his "The Mummy" (1932)! The only real debit is the unnecessary "comic" relief from Ted Healy and an alcoholic landlady (sorry, but alcoholism isn't funny).
This is still mostly unknown more than 60 years after its release. Why? It bombed badly when it came out, was too grim for most people and it almost never pops up on TV. That's a shame--it's one of the best horror films to come out in the 1930s. See this if you get a chance--it's only 70 minutes and it's well worth it! One of Lorre's best performances.
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