Written by: Pieter Boven on January 24th, 2006
Original Title: Les Mains d’Orlac / The Hands of Orlac
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1961
Director: Edmond T. Gréville
Writers: John Baines, Edmond T. Gréville, Maurice Renard
Cast: Mel Ferrer, Christopher Lee, Dany Carrel, Lucile Saint-Simon, Felix Aylmer
DVD released: October 3, 2005
Running time: 95m09s
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: French, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
DVD Label: Divisa
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (Spain)
Retail Price: 10 EUR
The Film :
On his way to France to meet his fiancée Louise Cochrane, the prestigious pianist Stephen Orlac becomes involved in a plane crash. Louise calls upon the infamous professor Volchett to save Stephen’s badly injured hands. The operation is successful but a newspaper article about the executed strangler Louis Vasseur leads Stephen to believe his own hands have been replaced by those of a murderer. Becoming more and more obsessed by this idea he seeks refuge in a local inn after having almost strangled Louise. There he meets the bitter magician Nero and his beautiful assistant Li-Lang. Nero smells some profitable blackmail when he suspects Stephen has something to hide and, also envious of the pianist’s artistic success, develops a sinister plan to drive him mad.
This movie is the third adaptation of the novel after Orlacs Hände (1924) and Mad Love (1935). I have seen neither so I can’t comment on which is better. Several sources indicate it was completely filmed twice, in English and in French, with the same cast but with changes in the crew such as the editor and the photographer. Since I do not have both versions I can’t comment on the actual differences. But apparently the French version is longer and more erotic than the English one.
The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio but the DVD is unfortunately not anamorphically enhanced. Although a bit on the soft side, the black and white transfer is nice to look at with good contrast levels and deep blacks. There is almost no print damage except some speckles and frame instability after scene changes. Unfortunately there is one major letdown since the opening credits (2m32s), end credits (0m19s) and a scene (1m45s) around 53 minutes into the movie are taken from a different source. This is painfully obvious as the awful quality sticks out like a sore thumb.
The choice is limited to the original French track and a Spanish dub, both available in dolby digital 2.0 mono. Although some crackling and background hiss is present, the dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The preferred French track seems to be louder and cleaner than the Spanish one. No subtitles are provided.
The animated menu looks nice but is slow as usual and there is a scene selection having an adequate number of 16 chapters. The extras are limited to some Spanish liner notes, filmographies, technical info and a photo gallery consisting mostly of pointless screenshots and one original poster. Nothing to get excited about.
Although I was expecting a more conventional horror film, this psychological thriller kept me fairly entertained with its interesting cast featuring genre regulars such as Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee. On top op that you get the sexy Dany Carrel you might know from Mill of the Stone Women and a cameo from Donald Pleasance. The musical score wasn’t half bad either. I did find the film could have been quite a bit shorter as it tended to drag a bit.
The DVD is a mixed bag. Since there are 2 different versions of this film it would have been nice to get both versions for comparison. Also I do not know if this DVD actually contains the complete French version. The French credits and an additional scene are obviously pulled from a different source. Also a shown newspaper has been partially translated into Spanish. The actors do seem to be talking French (Christopher Lee and Mel Ferrer sound like they are dubbing their own voice by the way) which would not be the case if the English version was used. The indispensable but often unreliable IMDb lists a running time of 104 minutes for the French version which is 5 minutes longer than this DVD in PAL speed. Also the absence of English audio options means you need a good understanding of Spanish or preferably French. However, as far as I know this is the only DVD release of this film so far and it’s not expensive.