The Beast With Five Fingers has a premise which refuses to die in popular culture. If you’ve watched the Addams Family, or the television show, Goosebumps, than you are well-versed in the horrors of disembodied hands. This 1940s B-movie fails to engage the readers with the plot, but when things start going bump in the night, there’s enough intrigue to keep you watching.
Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) was a once brilliant pianist who finds himself confined to a wheelchair and only able to play piano with his left hand. When he mysteriously dies, leaving his estate to beautiful caregiver Julie (Andrea King), a host of relatives and other associates want to figure out who killed Francis.
The Beast With Five Fingers dreams of being a murder mystery with an air of supernatural suspense, but the plot is too convoluted to blossom. Much of this is due to the various characters who all look and act relatively similar, all tied to being relatives themselves. The only distinct characters are the aforementioned Julie and Francis’ associate, Hilary Cummins (Peter Lorre), and honestly they’re memorable because one’s a female and the other is Peter Lorre. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak wanted Lorre’s Casablanca co-star, Paul Henreid in the role, but Henreid refused. Unfortunately, you need someone like Henreid to prevent you from immediately believing Lorre is the killer because he looks crazy. It’s a similar conundrum which faces Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining.
Lorre is game and presents a sympathetic character as Cummins. Gone are the bug-eyes and overacting Lorre is immortalized with; with this role, he’s a man continually abused and controlled by Francis and would wish him dead. Victor Francen establishes the tone of the film as he evil bastard Francis Ingram. I would have enjoyed additional scenes of him as the controlling, but brilliant, madman. The romance plot between Julie and Bruce Conrad (Robert Alda) provides nothing but a reason for everyone to hate Julie, and dampen the horror a bit.
The movie stumbled here and there before finding its way, and it’s a hard watch at times. The opening introduction to Francis, his life, and his madness is never developed fully; stopping in utero because the movie’s abbreviated runtime has to get to the eponymous beast with five fingers. The arrival of the remaining male characters did nothing but confuse me as to who everyone was and how they interconnect. The actual beast with five fingers, aka the disembodied hand, isn’t quite the show-stopper you’d imagine and only gets a few bombastic scenes before everything wraps up rather quickly.
The Beast with Five Fingers is a banal B-thriller with good performances from Lorre and Francen. The problems lie in too much telegraphed upfront, particularly Lorre’s character, and too little developed to enrapture the audience in terms of character and story. Warner Archive‘s release looks great, and this is worth a quick watch when it eventually ends up on their instant service.
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