The Best With Five Fingers starring Peter Lorre (1946)
The Beast With Five Fingers (1946)

Starring Peter Lorre

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Robert Alda - Bruce Conrad
Andrea King - Julie Holden
Peter Lorre - Hilary Cummins
Victor Francen - Francis Ingram
J. Carrol Naish - Commissario Ovidio Castanio
Charles Dingle - Raymond Arlington
John Alvin - Donald Arlington

The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), based on William Fryer Harvey's short story, was made into a slightly self-conscious but entertaining and now-classic film by director Robert Florey. The screenplay was by Kurt Siodmak who himself wrote a classic novel of horror/SF, Donovan's Brain - which is probably a rare find now, but well worth tracking down (my copy is an ex-library hardback found in the 'eighties). The short story by W. F. Harvey was first published in the New Decameron. The original music score was composed by Max Steiner, best known for his music for the original King Kong.

The brilliant Peter Lorre played astrologer Hilary. When his employer dies, Hilary loses both his job and his treasured library. He had been employed by Francis Ingram, a brilliant one-handed composer. Shortly after the burial, lights are seen in the family vault. And Ingram's corpse is mutilated - the hand severed.

Despite the afore-mentioned self-consciousness, I think the film is probably an improvement on the story, with the hand being a figment of the demented Lorre's imagination. Lorre's performance is magical and chilling, haunted by the hand as it scuttles behind books like a fat spider or inches across a table top.

In his 1982 autobiography My Last Sigh, Surrealist director Luis Buñuel wrote that while at Warner Brothers dubbing films into Spanish 1942-1946, he submitted a story about a murderous disembodied hand, then moved to Mexico and re-started his career as director. The much-played piano piece is a transcription for left hand by Warner Bros. pianist Victor Aller of the chaconne from Johann Sebastian Bach's Violin Partita in D minor.

The pictures in this slideshow come from an analogue video recording made off BBC back in the mid-Seventies. I recently recorded it onto DVD then used KM Player to get these screen grabs.

With thanks to Demonik, moderator of Vault of Evil - Pulp Plus for advice about KM Player when all other screen grabbers had proved useless.

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Rog Pile

Cornwall, UK. (2007)

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The First Pan Book of Horror Stories - 14th printing, 1970, uncredited cover.

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