A killer disembodied hand stalks the feuding heirs of a late musician in this cult horror classic, featuring Peter Lorre and J. Carroll Naish.
Our story beings in the charming Italian city of San Stefano, home of Francis Ingram (Victor Francen), a renowned concert pianist who was partially paralyzed by a stroke and can only play the piano with his left hand. He lives a secluded with life in a typical horror movie mansion with his nurse Julie Holden (Andrea King), his secretary Hillary Cummins (Peter Lorrre), and Bruce Conrad (Robert Alda), a talented musician who I think transcribed music that Ingram could play. Ingram credits his perseverance and will to continue playing to Julie, possibly being in love with her. Hillary's thrilled about this, as every moment Julie keeps Ingram occupied is another moment Hillary has free to read the numerous books on astrology and the occult in Ingram's library - so he's naturally freaked at the thought of Julie leaving Ingram's service with Conrad. One night, while dining with all of them and his lawyer Duprex (David Hoffman), Ingram announces he's made up his will and asks them all to sign it as witnesses.
Cinematically, The Beast with Five Fingers tries to create a dark, sinister atmosphere, but the camera tricks have been done so many times before and since, it's hard not to have a "been there, done that" reaction to them. Every cliche you could think of as going into a horror movie from this time period is in here. The director, Robert Florey, was a student of German Expressionism, and he knows how to use shadows and light to try and create an eerie mood, backed by a foreboding score by Max Steiner. Despite their best efforts, there's nothing the least bit scary about this movie (unless you're a little kid watching this movie at night with your prankster father, and he decides to make a high-pitched yelping "AI-AI-AI-AI!" when the hand gets throws the hand into a fireplace during the climax of the film). Also, the comedic ending scene where Naish breaks the fourth wall is completely unnecessary and takes away more than it adds. Still, given the production design, especially in the village scenes, it sometimes feels less like the B-picture it was meant to be (and budgeted as). The effects used to create the hand aren't bad. As a bit of fun music trivia, the piece Ingram and the hand are playing on the piano is the "Bach Cacchone in D Minor," arranged for the left hand to play it alone by Johannes Brahms. (Brahms was a friend of composer Max Steiner's family, and Steiner felt that the Cacchone had the perfect dark undertone for a film like this, rather than trying to come up with a piece for the left hand himself.) The piece was performed by Ervin Nyiregyhazi, a famed Hungarian-American pianist who had fallen into obscurity by this point, and it's his own hand in his scenes of the disembodied hand playing it.