Hands of a Stranger (1962)

Paul Lukather, Joan Harvey, James Noah, Ted Otis,
A concert pianist loses his hands in a car crash, but a surgeon gives him new ones. The experimental medical procedure goes awry when the new hands drive the pianist mad.
  • 5.2 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Maurice Renard, Writer:
  • Newt Arnold, Director:
  • Michael Du Pont, Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

Subtle it ain't!

If this film seems familiar, it might be because you've seen "Mad Love" (1935) or either version of "The Hands of Orlac" (1924/1960). "Hands of a Stranger" is essentially a reworking of this story. In all four films, a concert pianist loses his hands in an accident and receives transplanted hands--and the hands are, apparently, evil and have a mind of their own! What makes this film a bit difference is that the surgeon is not evil--just an over-actor! And the same can clearly be said about the pianist's sister--who seems to be trying her best to upstage the doctor's occasionally overwrought performance! Ditto for the pianist. Once he has his bandages removed, so is all restraint--and he begins battling for the best over-acting award! My vote is for the sister...but her crazy brother sure gives her a run for the money! Regardless, this movie lacks subtlety and is filled with many scenes that are simply overdone. And I loved how practically every time the pianist touched someone they died!! It was actually pretty funny--though sadly the film was not intended as a comedy.

The bottom line is that I've seen the 1935 and 1924 films and they are excellent--highly enjoyable and clever. "Hands of a Stranger", in contrast, is heavy-handed and a bit dumb...no...a lot dumb. Really, really dumb. But, because it is so bad, it actually is worth seeing just for a few laughs.

By the way, looks for a young Barry Gordon as a piano-playing kid. He's pretty cute and has a memorable encounter with the crazed pianist. Also, get a load of the Doctor and his bedside manner. He sure loves slapping patients! I wonder which medical school taught him that!

5 / 10

Lackluster version of the "hands" that had a mind of their own...

A talky script and some overacting in key scenes doesn't help put the viewer in the right frame of mind to enjoy this oft told story of hands that are sewn onto a pianist after he loses use of his hands in an accident.

Nobody in the cast has any "name" value and I see that in many of these reviews people are confusing the leading male characters by crediting the wrong names of the actors.

For clarification, it's James Stapleton who plays the pianist with a sensitive but expressionless face. His looks are reminiscent of Hurd Hatfield's in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" who also kept a mask-like facial expression. The doctor is played with slightly more animation by Paul Lukather and has a more sympathetic role. The victimized Stapleton resents the doctor's surgery to the extent that he becomes arrogant and spiteful enough to emerge a killer.

Some of the B&W photography is in the film noir category but everyone is let down by an uninspired script and less than polished direction.

7 / 10

Too much talk, not enough schlock

A world famous pianist loses his hands as the result of a car crash, and is then given the hands of a killer in an audacious medical transplant. This event has a dark psychological effect on him.

Hands of a Stranger is a little too talky for its own good. The story itself might be a well-worn one but there's no excuse for the serious lack of action here. An 'evil hands' film really needs to cut back on the chat and deliver more schlock. There are occasional memorable moments such as the scene where the pianist visits the home of the taxi driver responsible for the crash that maimed him but in the main such sequences are in short supply. The lead character Vernon is also a somewhat hard character to get behind. His ingratitude for the surgery that prevented him from being without hands marks him out as a somewhat arrogant and unsympathetic individual.

One reasonably interesting aspect of the film is that its quite ambiguous for a movie of this type, in that it is never really made certain that the hands are inherently evil or not. It seems to me that the surgery merely effects the natural dexterity that Vernon had, and as a result makes him unable to play piano, leading to psychological breakdown. In this sense Hands of a Stranger is quite interesting. But its poor pacing and lack of action mean that it is not enough to save it from being a bit of a clunker.

5 / 10

B-horror

A man is murdered on the streets. Dr. Gil Harding tries to save him but he dies on the operating table. The doctor does notice the dead man's exquisite hands. Police Lt. Syms has questions for the doctor. Vernon Paris is a brilliant concert pianist and his sister Dina Paris is his biggest supporter. Vernon's hands are terribly mangled in a car accident. Dr. Harding tries an experimental hand transplant surgery.

This is a horror story staple. The body horror idea has deep roots despite its surgical unreality at the time. This is closer to an old style slasher B-movie. It's not the most compelling after an intriguing start. It's old and melodramatic. I doesn't take advantage of the body horror angle. It's all rather flat.

5 / 10

Better than expected obscurity

As others have noted, an extremely talky flick, with dialog so florid you could pin it on a prom date. However, there are some nice touches to be found: the opening sequence is noirishly atmospheric and well-executed, so to speak. Paul Lukather's seething mien carries the film valiantly,although his and his sister's rage at the doctor's eminently logical and humane decision to graft good hands onto Paul's mangled stubs strains credulity. Also, watch for the ending shot, which emulates a famous religious painting nicely.

The deaths/killings are egregiously mild by today's standards, but, with the exception of a ludicrously spontaneous immolation, are effectively staged. The low-budget look is offset somewhat by inventive camera work that sustains a grim mood.

It's not made clear whether Lukather's character starts killing because he now plays piano like Whack-A-Mole, or because his new hands somehow carry with them the temperament of their previous thuggish owner.

Considering the dreck that was around in the early 60's, this is not bad stuff; with less gaseous dialog, it might have been memorable.