Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Beast With Five Fingers


Much better than the title would indicate. It’s not a horror film as we think of them today, though a few people get strangled. It’s more of a ghost story … though only a part of the ghost is involved. A partially paralyzed pianist has learned to play certain pieces with just his left hand. He’s bitter, and possibly crazy. He changes his will to leave everything to his nurse. Then he falls down the stairs in his wheelchair and dies. A grasping American brother-in-law and his son show up, and are alarmed that they are going to get nothing. They threaten to challenge the will. The piano is heard playing, but no one’s there. The next thing you know, people are getting strangled. First to go is the lawyer who was going to help the interlopers. The police look into the tomb, and find the pianist’s left hand has been cut off.
All the people in the house are suspect, including the nurse and her ne’er-do-well but charming and basically good boyfriend, Robert Alda. (He sells phony “antiquities” in the town, and when accused by the chief cop of selling without a license, he blithely points out that if he bought the cameo for 50 and sold it for 50, that’s hardly selling. He doesn’t mention that he bought it for 50 lire and sold it for 50 dollars.) Also in the house are Peter Lorre, a researcher who hopes to unlock the secrets of the universe by studying ancient books. He’s been at it for 20 years. He is, as usual, a bit crazy, and gets crazier as we go along, It’s a good performance by him.
It’s two-thirds of the way in before we see the actual severed hand, crawling across a desk. Today, of course, it would show up in 15 minutes. The look of the film is great, it’s reasonably well-written, and nicely spooky throughout. It was directed by Robert Florey, who I’ve never heard of, though his career included some damn good films, including the Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts. He’s been described as “the best director working in major studio B-films.” The image of the severed hand playing the piano will stick with me, and it’s damn good SFX for 1946
Auctorial comment: Naturally, it would have to be a left hand that does all the dirty work. I myself am left-handed, and all my life have decried the large and small inconveniences you right-handed bastards visit on “southpaws” every day. It has deep roots, going back to the Latin dexter, for right, and sinister for left. The French for left is gauche, right is droit. The words say it, right? Dextrous, maladroit, the right side of the law or bed, a left-handed compliment. In ancient times a left-handed person was thought to be possessed by the devil. In some Arab cultures to eat with the left hand is the ultimate gaucherie, as that is the hand they use for wiping their asses. About the only realm of human endeavor where we have an advantage is pitching a baseball. But our other advantage is that many of the smartest, most creative people who ever lived were left-handed. Just sayin’.