Concert pianist Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) loses his hands in a horrible railway accident. His wife Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina) pleads with a surgeon to try and save Orlac’s hands. The surgeon decides to try and transplant new hands onto Orlac, but the hands he uses are those of a recently-executed murderer named Vasseur. From that point forward, the pianist is tortured by the presence of a knife he finds at his house, just like that used by Vassuer, and the desire to kill. He believes that along with the murderer’s hands, he has also gained the murderer's predisposition to violence. He confronts the surgeon, telling him to remove the hands, but the surgeon tries to convince him that a person’s acts are not governed by hands, but by the head and heart.
Orlac’s new hands are unable to play the piano, and in time he and his wife run out of money. Creditors give them one more day to pay their bills. Yvonne goes to Paul’s father for money, but is refused. Orlac himself then goes to see his father, but finds he has been stabbed to death with the same knife like Vasseur's. He starts to think he himself committed the murder, and goes to a café for a drink. There he meets a man who claims he is Vasseur, who tells Orlac the same surgeon who did the hand transplant also transplanted a new head into Vasseur’s body. He then tells Orlac he wants money to keep quiet about the murder.
In the meantime, police find Vasseur’s finger prints at the scene of the crime, causing confusion. Paul and Yvonne Orlac decide to go to the police and try to explain about Vasseur’s hands being on Paul’s arms, but that he had no recollection of killing his father. He also tells the police about the man claiming to be the executed murderer, and the blackmail money. It turns out that the man is actually a con man, well known to police. The Orlac maid tells the police that he was a friend of Vasseur, and that he had made a set of rubber gloves with Vasseur’s finger prints on them. The gloves were used during the murder.
Orlacs Hände was based on the book Les Mains d'Orlac by Maurice Renard. It was one of the first films to feature the motif, often recurring in later films, of hands with a will of their own, whether or not attached to a body, as well as popular fears, based on ignorance, around the subject of surgical transplants, in the days before such procedures were possible. It was shot at the studios of Listo-Film in Vienna by the Pan-Film production company.
The Austrian premiere took place on 6 May 1924. Distribution was carried out by the German Berolina-Film company. The German premiere followed on 24 September 1924 in the Haydn-Kino in Berlin. The French version had the title Les Mains d'Orlac, the English version The Hands of Orlac. The film was first shown in the United States in 1928, where its promotion and distribution were undertaken by the Aywon Film Corporation.
The sets were constructed by the film architects and set builders Hans Rouc, Karl Exner and Stefan Wessely.
The Hands of Orlac
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