Synopsis: There’s conflict afoot in the house of pianist Francis Ingram (Victor Francen). His dedicated nursemaid Julie (Andrea King) has taken a shine to his dishonest cohort Bruce (Robert Alda), and his secretary Hilary (Peter Lorre) refuses to tear himself away from his astrological “research.” So when Ingram takes a spill down the stairs and dies late one night, nobody is really bothered. That is, until more people start to mysteriously expire, with suspicious black and blue fingerprints around their throats. Ingram’s piano music is heard playing throughout the house, and Hilary swears a part of the angry musician has returned from beyond the grave: his disembodied hand, ready to take vengeance on those who wronged him in life and continue to dishonor him after death. Are these the ravings of an antisocial lunatic, or is Ingram’s hand really running amok and killing off his enemies?
What a wholesale disappointment. The plot of this Robert Florey film sounded awesome, and it put the movie on my must-see list for a long time. But sadly, aside from an adorable severed hand which does crawl around and play the piano and do menacing things as promised, there’s nothing to it. The story starts with potential, and a mystery is anticipated, but instead of going that route it just completely gives you what you see and makes no effort to be surprising or suspenseful. The plot twist is that there is no plot twist; the person flashing the giant proverbial I AM THE MURDERER, I AM CRAZY, LOOK OUT FOR ME sign above his head from the very start turns out to be, surprise, the culprit. Sorry if I spoiled it for you, but really. Lorre is effective as always, but it’s a character you expect him to play, so while he’s good at it, it’s nothing really novel. According to screenwriter Curt Siodmak, the story was originally penned with Paul Henreid in mind, under the belief that a more handsome leading man would garner more sympathy from the audience, therefore making it harder to believe that he was crazy. While on a personal taste level I disagree on the issue of Henreid being more handsome than Lorre, I think he might be right. Having someone less suspicious in the role of the crazy person might’ve added at least a hint of mystery. But if the rest of the plot had been kept exactly the same, the film would’ve ended up losing a lot, as Peter Lorre is basically the best thing it’s got going for it. As for the rest of the cast, they fit the bill well enough, except for Robert Alda who is awful. Imagine Rod Sterling’s voice coming out of Robert Donat’s body. He’s supposed to be the smarmy-charmy crook who’s got everything figured out from a mile away and just sits back making sarcastic comments, but it’s his delivery that’s laughable. The atmosphere is nicely creepy at times but mostly the soundtrack and the acting make everything seem way too overblown and melodramatic. The ending – as in literally the last thirty seconds or so – will make you go, “Huh?!?” in a bad way, and might even make you wanna punch the screen. I know I did. I’ll give it points for the always-watchable Lorre and the fun special effects, but really, I expected a whole lot more out of this movie than what I got. Skip it.
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) – 2.5/5 stars