Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Hands of Orlac

One of TCM's more interesting choices for this year's Summer Under the Stars is today's selection of Conrad Veidt. He's probably best known to American audiences for playing Major Strasser in Casablanca (tonight at midnight), but Veidt was born in Germany and started his career in the expressionist silent films that were being made in Germany in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Perhaps the best example is The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, which will be airing overnight (at 3:15). The night, however, kicks off with The Hands of Orlac at 8:00 PM.

The plot should sound familiar to you. Veidt plays Orlac, a concert pianist who unfortunately loses the use of his hands in a train accident. However, there's hope! A doctor has been experimenting in new techniques in transplantaion, and has a cadaver whose hands he can take, and put in place of Orlac's hands. So far so good. The problem is that the cadaver was that of a criminal -- and those hands take on a life of their own, forcing the former pianist to start engaging in crime himself! As I said, this should sound familiar: the movie was remade in Hollywood in 1935 as Mad Love, and then remade in the UK in 1960 as The Hands of Orlac. (There'a also a late-1950s Mexican comedy with a very similar theme that aired many years back on Azteca America back in the days when they were showing old movies at lunchtime.)

That second Hands of Orlac also brings up an important caveat. TCM's monthly schedule, which I downloaded at the end of July, had The Hands of Orlac put in a 105-minute timeslot. The box guide, however, lists the 1960 version in a two-hour slot. Now, it's obvious TCM won't be showing the 1960 movie, since Veidt died of a heart attack in 1943. But the two-hour block turns out to be correct: as with many silent films, finding lost footage, and cuts for foreign releases, means that you wind up with different running times. At some point along the way the silent ended up with a running time of 91 minutes. The restored silent is listed as running 110 minutes, and that's even the running time listed in the printed monthly schedule. As if you can fit a 110-minute movie into a 105-minute slot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting blog! Thank you.