Cast & Crew
The hands of pianist Vernon Paris are horribly mutilated in a taxicab accident, and Dr. Gil Harding replaces them with those of a murdered man. Dina (Vernon's sister) and George Britton (his manager) permit the transplant, believing it to be the only hope of Vernon's playing again. Though the operation is a physical success, Vernon is mentally incapable of accepting his new hands. Morose, he visits his girl friend, Elleen Hunter, and is shattered psychologically when she is repelled by his scarred wrists. Consequently, when she knocks over a candlestick and sets fire to her gown, Vernon allows her to burn to death. He visits the home of the cab driver responsible for the accident and hears his son play the piano. Vernon then tries to play, but unable to do so, he attacks the boy, who hits his head on an obstruction and dies. Now bent on total revenge, Vernon kills one of the surgeons who assisted at the transplantation and the young doctor's fiancée. Half-crazed, he goes to an empty concert hall and maniacally pounds a piano keyboard. When his sister and Dr. Harding appear, Vernon grabs the doctor and attempts to strangle him. He is prevented from committing still another murder by the timely arrival of the police.
Michael Du Pont
Hands of a Stranger
Based on the 1920 novel Les Mains d'Orlac by French writer Maurice Renard, Hands of a Stranger (1962) is probably the most obscure movie adaptation of this famous horror tale which has been filmed numerous times before and since. The Hands of Orlac, the 1924 silent version directed by Robert Wiene with Conrad Veidt in the title role, and Karl Freund's Mad Love (1935) with Colin Clive as Orlac and Peter Lorre as the demented Doctor Gogol still stand as the most memorable screen versions of the Renard novel while other renditions include the 1960 remake The Hands of Orlac with Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee and numerous European television productions.
Hands of a Stranger is an effectively lurid B-movie take on the familiar story with atmospheric, noir-influenced cinematography by TV veteran Henry Cronjager, Jr. Writer/Director Newt Arnold provides some fresh variations on the Renard original that includes a close, almost incestuous relationship between Paris and his devoted sister Dina (Joan Harvey) and reverses our sympathies for the protagonists, making the pianist a raging monster and Dr. Harding the hero. Unlike Lorre's insidious surgeon in Mad Love who tries to drive his patient insane so he can possess his wife, Harding's intentions are noble and good, even though his romantic pursuit of Dina inadvertently pushes Paris to extremes.
While most of the pianist's homicidal behavior takes place off screen, there are two on-screen deaths that are still potent and disturbing [SPOILER ALERT]; the first involves former girlfriend Eileen (Elaine Martone) whose dress catches fire and she burns to death during a violent argument with Paris and the second is the demise of Skeet (child actor Barry Gordon), the son of the taxi driver who accidentally caused the fateful car accident. The child not only has his hands crushed by Paris but dies from a head injury while trying to flee the madman.
Although well-paced and appropriately doom-laden, Hands of a Stranger is also heavy-handed at times with often risible, theatrical dialogue that would not be out of place in a pretentious off-Broadway play. For example, Lt. Syms (Laurence Haddon), the detective investigating Paris's murdered donor, muses, "Hands. Amazing things when you think about it. A genius device of flesh and bone that can paint a beautiful picture, control a scalpel, press the trigger and perhaps the delicately lined pictures on the tips of those fingers can tell me all I want to know."
The performances also have the exaggerated, crisis-oriented quality of a daytime television soap opera with Paul Lukather maintaining a nervous, sweaty intensity throughout as the concerned doctor and Joan Harvey matching him scene for scene as the borderline hysterical sister and would-be fiancée. Some of their exchanges achieve the absurd deliriousness of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
Gil Harding: Don't let fear drive you into a pit of superstition. Dina Paris: But are we sure the soul really controls the outside? Or is what we call a soul really shaped by our own pleasures and hatreds of the outside and how they're shaped by the world?
Despite the camp aspects of Hands of a Stranger, the movie is still more offbeat and engrossing than you'd expect from a relatively unknown B-movie of the sixties. It also features an early appearance by Sally Kellerman in her second film role as the ill-fated girlfriend of an assistant surgeon and Irish McCalla as a nurse; McCalla was a former pin-up in girlie magazines whose main claim to fame was playing the title role in the TV series, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1955-56). Richard LaSalle, who composed the dramatic score, was unusually prolific in the sixties and seventies, scoring everything from The Flight That Disappeared (1961) to Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) to The Thirsty Dead (1974). Also look and listen for jazz legends the Red Norvo Quintette in the background in one scene.
Producer: Newt Arnold, Michael Du Pont
Director: Newt Arnold
Screenplay: Newt Arnold
Cinematography: Henry Cronjager, Jr.
Editing: Bert Honey
Art Direction: Theobold Holsopple
Music: Richard LaSalle
Cast: James Stapleton (Vernon Paris), Paul Lukather (Dr. Gil Harding), Joan Harvey (Dina Paris), Ted Otis (Dr. Ross Compton), Michael Rye (George Britton), Irish McCalla (Holly), Sally Kellerman (Sue), Barry Gordon (Skeet Wilder).
by Jeff Stafford
Hands of a Stranger
The working title of this film is The Answer! Loosely based on an idea from the novel Les mains d'Orlac by Maurice Renard.