In recent years, the 1928 silent classic, The Man Who Laughs, has finally been given its due as one of the greatest horror films of all time, thanks to the incomparable performance of legendary German actor Conrad Veidt (Casablanca and A Woman's Face).
But another Veidt classic that precedes it should be added to anyone's list of horror films to watch each Halloween season: The Hands of Orlac.
The 1924 Austrian film, based on the 1920 Maurice Renard novel, Les Mains d'Orlac, is perhaps one of the greatest silent pictures of all time. It is about a concert pianist who loses his hands in a railway accident, after which surgeons transplant at the end of his arms the hands of a recently executed murderer. When Orlac discovers the surgery, he descends into madness and believes he must kill.
Veidt, who appeared in the superb 1920 German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, gives a terrific and even more haunting performance in The Man Who Laughs. Of course, the tremendous cinematography of Robert Weine adds to this psychological horror classic. Kino Productions' DVD release also contains an excellent soundtrack that adds to the naturalistic visuals.
When Veidt left Germany for Hollywood, his talents were mostly wasted. He had secondary parts in several excellent pictures, a lot of them related to Nazis. Veidt is a thespian legend, who could certainly stand next to Lon Chaney. It was too bad he was not given the chance to shine as he did in Europe.