Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) was directed by Robert Florey who also directed the cult classic Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), and The Cocoanuts (1929) the first Marx Brothers’ feature-length film. This Warner Brothers release is noted for its impressive special effects (at least for its time), stylish camerawork, and Gothic atmosphere. Florey had once said that The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) was one of his worst working experiences with Warner Bros and that initially he didn't even want to direct it due to the demands of the special effects required for the film.

The screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak and based on a short story by W. F. Harvey first published in the New Decameron. Siodmak, no stranger to the horror genre, also wrote TheWolf Man (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), and   I Walked with a Zombie (1943). 

 Siodmak stated that he had originally written the screenplay for Warner Brothers’ leading man Paul Henried. Henried declined the role saying, "I'm not wild to play against a dead hand." Siodmak wanted a handsome actor like Henried to play the role of Hilary Cummins. The writer was convinced that the film would be more convincing with Henried instead of Peter Lorre, who had played so many demented characters in other films that the audience would automatically assume that his character was insane.

The piano music played by Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) and his disembodied hand,  the Bach Chaconne in D minor, was arranged to be played by the left hand alone by Johannes Brahms. Music coordinator Max Steiner selected the piece because the screenplay required a piece of piano music that could be played by using only the left hand.   It was Ervin Nyíregyházi, the Legendary
Hungarian-American pianist, who actually performed the music played by the severed hand. To achieve the effect of the disembodied hand playing the piano, Nyíregyházi was completely covered in black material allowing only his left hand to be visible during the piano sequence. The disembodied hand featured throughout the film would later become the inspiration for the character of “Thing” that appeared in The Addams Family television series (1964-1966) based on the Charles Addams’ comic strip The Addams Family.

According to Andrea King who played Julie Holden, she and the rest of the cast had strong misgivings about the film. 

In an interview King said:

"We absolutely hated the title, it sounded like one of those campy B-Movies, and I had just come off of a starring role opposite Ida Lupino in 'The Man I Love.' Bob Alda, Peter Lorre and I felt that it had to be a step backwards."  She further stated "We took the film very seriously after reading the script... except when Peter got bored one day." Andrea recalls, "He just loved practical jokes! We were filming the scene at the dining table, when Victor Francen's character questions each of us about his sanity. It was supposed to be a very somber scene, before he announces to us that he's rewritten his will."  

According to King, the scene around the table should have taken only about half a day to film.

"Instead, every time Victor asked Peter a question, Peter would turn to us very seriously and say his line with a carrot hanging out of his ear or a piece of parsley dangling from his nose. Bob and I got the giggles and couldn't fight our way back out of it. Victor grew more and more angry. And if that weren't enough, our director Robert Florey was so furious after several more takes that he stormed right off the set, and filming was canceled for the rest of the day!
"Only a star with enough clout as Peter Lorre could've gotten away with a stunt like that. We finished the scene the following day, and that was that."

Despite Lorre’s antics filming was completed in January 1946. The film then underwent extensive editing and was finally released on December 25, 1946. Robert Florey’s directing style was no doubt influenced by the German Expressionism films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). With its bizarre camera angles, point a view shots of the disembodied hand, and Max Steiner eerie music score The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) takes the audience through a menacing cinematic experience. The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) was a major hit for Warner Bros. and is now considered for a classic among fans around the world.

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