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The hands of concert pianist Steven Orlac are severely burned and maimed in a Paris airplane crash, and he is taken by his fiancée, Louise Cochrane, to Professor Volcheff, a surgeon famous for his bone-grafting operations. Volcheff gives Orlac the hands of Vasseur, an accused strangler who has been guillotined. During his next piano concert, Orlac appears unable to control his hands. He becomes obsessed by the idea that his hands are now capable only of violence; his cat is found dead, and he even attempts to strangle Louise, who has become his wife. Seeking seclusion, he gives up his Monte Carlo villa and retreats to relative obscurity in Marseilles, where Nero, a second-rate music hall magician, overhears the pianist admit his fear of committing murder. Nero then forces his assistant, Li-lang, to cooperate in blackmailing Orlac by terrorizing him. Orlac returns to London with his wife and is about to strangle her when the police arrive and produce a telegram stating that the executed Frenchman was later proven innocent. His sanity restored, Orlac aids the police in apprehending Nero, who has killed Li-lang to prevent her from confessing their crime.