Archive for The Hands of Orlac

Geeks Bearing Grifts

Posted in FILM, literature, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2021 by dcairns

Got our copies of THE HANDS OF ORLAC and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD a while back. The Wiene film is a really great package, with Fiona and I’s video essay, Extremities, joined by a plethora of extras. My favourite is Tim Lucas’ study of the film’s ongoing influence, and on the works of original author Maurice Renard.

I just recently read The Light of Other Days, the award-winning sci-fi story by Bob Shaw, which deals with slow glass, a scienti-fiction substance through which light passes very slowly, so that you can see things that happened on the other side decades before. Shaw’s story uses an affecting tale of bereavement to dramatise the concept — a man can still look at his wife and children, who died years ago — but he says, in How To Write Science Fiction, that he first considered a murder story, where the killer fears that his guilt will be discovered when the light finishes its glacial journey.

Well, according to Lucas, Maurice Renard got there first, in Le Maître de la lumière, which has the murder and the slow glass, here named Luminite. But I suspect this wasn’t plagiarism, but what they call parallel development. Every idea will occur to multiple people, unless the first iteration becomes so universally famous that nobody thereafter can think they’re the first to come up with it. Renard’s own big idea in his novel Les Mains’ D’Orlac, the hand transplant where the recipient imagines his new parts retain their owner’s (murderous) impulses, was not wholly original to Renard. I’m quite chuffed that Fiona and I were the only extra-makers on this disc to dig up the earlier version, Mortmain, by Arthur Cheney Train. You can read it online. It’s terrible.

This film adaptation has been lost, last seen at The Cozy.

In other news, the stack of discs I’ve worked on now comes up to my nose.

But not up to Richard Kiel’s

Further reading: a few stories from the collection Far Out by Damon Knight, the first of which, To Serve Man, became a celebrated Twilight Zone episode. It’s a fairly dumb story on some levels (even assuming the titular cookbook has no giveaway illustrations, the idea that the title could be translated before any of the contents is a preposterous distortion of how translation works) but the idea is fun. Idiot Stick, the second story, is a variant on the same “too good to be true aliens” idea, and while the premise proves to be equally illogical (aliens want to blow up Earth to create an asteroid belt as a barrier), the human solution to the alien invasion is awe-inspiring. I think maybe it was Theodore Sturgeon who defined an sf story as “a scientific problem with a human solution.)


Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , on March 31, 2021 by dcairns

Fiona and I are collaborating on a video essay for THIS.

It’s actually being edited right now, and promises to be a heap o’ fun. It’s got me well into French sf author Maurice Renard, who I was already slightly familiar with, to the extent that I kinda stole something from him for a screenplay (unfilmed). Maybe that’s why we’re having so much computer trouble? There’s definitely some kind of ghost in the machine.

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.