Archive for Hands of a Stranger

Vanilla from Manila

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 4, 2021 by dcairns

Having enjoyed the peculiar HANDS OF A STRANGER, I took a look at Newt Arnold’s second directing credit (his third, BLOODSPORT, a Jean-Claude Van Damme kicky-thumpy thing, doesn’t seem particularly alluring). This is BLOOD THIRST, shot in the Philippines in 1965 but unreleased until 1971. It’s kind of remarkable that it got released THEN, since it’s in b&w (and has a nice, atmospheric noir look, aided by sultry library jazz music) and since the exploitation elements are pretty thin — there’s an exotic dancer, but she remains stubbornly dressed, and the haemoglobin flows in mere occasional trickles.

Still, it’s sleazy! Movie sleaze is an attitude, it does not depend on nipples or guts. It’s there in the way Philippines cinema regular Vic Diaz, playing a cop, grins inappropriately while standing by a dangling corpse. It’s especially there in the way his pal, a “sex crimes expert” from New York, played by lisping Robert Winston, puts the moves on Diaz’s sister. Though he might technically pass as handsome, Winston manages to seem creepy, arrogant and thoroughly repulsive. Mainly it’s not his fault, it’s the script’s.

This is credited to the improbable N.I.P. Dennis — who seems to be Newt Arnold in disguise — his middle name was Dennis. N.I.P. has no other credits.

Some point to the film’s plot — a vampiric cult operating out of a strip joint — as a probably influence on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. I really disliked FROM DUSK TILL DAWN but it has a propulsive energy, and the genre-switch is, I guess, bold. I just never forgave it from changing from a moderately interesting crime drama to a silly vampire movie. If you swap genres in mid-stream, you ought really to maintain some tone and some quality. BLOOD THIRST isn’t energetic — even at 73 minutes its somewhat sluggish, it has a Scooby Doo one-track plot with no red or even grey herrings, and the Aztec death cult doesn’t really make sense. What I mainly wanted to know was, Why is there a monster with a head like a wad of chewed gum? I quite like him, but what’s his deal? And the movie doesn’t tell us.

It also doesn’t explain why the “golden goddess” from Peru (Yvonne Nielson), kept immortally young by blood infusions and certain rare herbs, is working as a stripper. The movie seems to be assuming that’s what an immortally young Peruvian golden goddess would choose to do with her limitless time.

The only character with any competence in the film is the one-legged detective, Eddie Infante. And he’s not amazingly competent, except by contrast with everyone else.

He’s the guy on the right here. I’m just going to leave you to wonder about the guy on his right, lower down. There is an explanation, but I doubt it would satisfy you.

Hands On

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2021 by dcairns

Newt Arnold was a busy AD and second-unit man on big films like BLADE RUNNER and THE GODFATHER PART II, but directed the occasional film of his own — HANDS OF A STRANGER (1962) being the first. It shouldn’t take me long to polish off his directorial oeuvre — BLOOD THIRST seems to have been shot around 1965 but didn’t get a release until 1971 (and considering it was shot in b&w, it’s a small miracle it did). BLOODSPORT is a 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

HANDS OF A STRANGER is an Allied-Artists release — so, cheap, but not so cheap it hurts. Arnold manages to get some cinema going on, notably in the dynamic opening sequence showing an apparent mob hit. As screenwriter, he’s quite simply lifted the plot of THE HANDS OF ORLAC — a literary-cinematic warhorse that had just been filmed in 1960 by Edmond Greville with Mel Ferrer, Christopher Lee and Dany Carrel. In fairness, original author Maurice Renard had probably been heavily “influenced” by Arthur Train’s hand-transplant novelette Mortmain, itself filmed as an early silent. What’s interesting about this (stolen) property is that each version comes up with a very different take on the idea of transplanted hands influencing their recipient’s behaviour. Only Arnold’s version suggests that the whole gimmick may be a red herring — the identity of the donor is never discovered, and the murderous impulses felt by pianist Vernon Paris (James Noah) may be entirely his own — deprived of the ability to express himself musically (even though everyone keeps telling him his new mitts just need wearing in — he releases a pent-up rage against everyone associated with his accident and subsequent op.

The first Orlac movie, ORLACS HANDE (1924) is proper expressionist, and Arnold has to his credit come up with a mod equivalent: noir cinematography coupled with incredibly fervid performances snapping out reams of verbiage. Everybody talks the same: people are always saying “Tell me one thing” or “Accept this one thing” until it gets kind of delirious. It’s a deliberate choice to make the driven, obsessive surgeon Dr. Harding (Paul Lukather) practically the same character as his experimental subject, the driven, obsessive pianist. But it’s not a deliberate choice, I don’t think, to make everyone else talk the same. too.

Probably for reasons of budget/sched, a lot of this is covered in talking head form, but there are lots of hand close-ups too. It’s all crude but undeniably forceful.

The only time we sense a real human presence before the camera is when child actor Barry Gordon (the newsboy from THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT) is around. He doesn’t seem to have grown any in the intervening six years, making me wonder if this one got its release held back too — but he’s amazing. And a young Sally “Hot Lips” Kellerman turns up for one scene and is likewise terrific. Though Joan Harvey is pretty good as the piano player’s too-sisterly sister, only BG and SK really get any lifelike behaviour going. Everyone else is a prisoner of genre and plot and that seething dialogue.

It’s a very gay film, I felt, though it’s hard to put one’s finger on why. And Arnold was married three times, twice to the same woman. You can have a gay sensibility, whatever that is, without being gay (and vice versa, I guess?). A reviewer notes that BLOOD THIRST is throbbing with beefcake, so this may be a directorial theme. I can’t imagine that BLOODSPORT is entirely unbeefcaked.