The Hands of Orlac
This seldom-seen German expressionist film, made in 1924 by Robert Weine (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), is showcased in this premiere revival at the Castro Theater. Photographed largely in pools of inky blackness, The Hands of Orlac lacks the schizoid sets of Caligari but occupies the same paranoid corner of dark imaginings. Concert pianist Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt) loses his hands in a train accident and finds them replaced by those of a convicted killer. Soon Veidt feels the pull of murder in his own fingers, and spends most of the rest of the film trailing after his hands in despair. The tricky plot relies on the same contrivances as Caligari but is wonderfully insane in its convolutions, as is Veidt. Fritz Kortner is one of the great screen villains as a leering specter, and if Alexandra Sorina, as Orlac's wife, begins her performance at such a nervous pitch it takes the film awhile to catch up to her, even the most outrageous "overacting" makes sense in this milieu.
Richard Marriott's new score for the film, performed by the Club Foot Orchestra as augmented by a string quartet, is very apt, never subverting or dominating the movie. One of the nicest touches is the use of a recorded piano for Orlac's live performances, rendered hissy for an old record of his.
The Hands of Orlac, with live accompaniment by the Club Foot Orchestra, screens Friday through Monday, Jan. 17-20, at 8 p.m. at the Castro, Castro & Market. There are also 2 p.m. shows on Sunday and Monday. Friday's showing is the closing night of the "Berlin & Beyond" festival; a post-screening closing-night party is included with admission. Tickets are $10 for all shows; call 621-6120.
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