Review of “The Beast with Five Fingers” (1946)

from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Around the turn of the twentieth century, renowned American pianist Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) suffered a stroke. He lives in isolation in a villa near the remote Italian village of San Stefano. Though he uses a wheelchair and remains paralyzed on the right side of his body, he has maintained virtuosity in his left hand using modified scores provided by his friend Bruce Conrad* (Robert Alda). He has fallen in love with his beautiful young nurse, Julie Holden (Andrea King). She, however, appears unaware of his affections and cares for him only as an ailing patient. His interest in the occult is fed by his resident astrologer, Hilary Cummins (Peter Lorre), who loves… his books. Nephew and presumed heir Donald Arlington (John Alvin) also lives with Ingram.

Conrad has a side hustle, specifically, peddling “authentic” antiques to gullible tourists. Commissario Ovidio Castanio wags his finger and warns him selling items in the café is illegal.

At dinner at the villa with his household and his lawyer, Duprex (David Hoffman), Ingram asks everyone whether they believe he is mentally sound. They all agree that he is. He then asks for signatures on a document. A few balk, wanting to know what they’re signing. Ingram admits it’s his will.

Later, in the garden, under the moonlight, Conrad and Julie talk. She wants to go away. He admits he loves her. Watching and listening is the astrologer, Cummins, who tells Ingram about Julie’s plans to leave. Ingram flies into a rage and grabs Cummins by the throat. His life is spared only when Julie rushes in and stops her boss from strangling him. Ingram then tells Cummins to get out.

That night, Ingram wakes and calls for Julie’s assistance. She doesn’t respond. He climbs out of bed and into his wheelchair. He pauses outside his bedroom, on a walkway that overlooks the grand room with his piano. For some unexplained reason, his eyes start swimming. He rolls closer to the top of the stairs, topples down the staircase, and dies.

One evening shortly after the master of the house is laid to rest, the servants notice a light in the mausoleum. When responsible people rush to the building, they find it dark and empty.

Raymond Arlington (Charles Dingle), Ingram’s brother-in-law and nephew Donald’s father, arrives from America. Together, they evaluate how much the books in Cummins’ library are worth, much to the Cummins’ dismay. He regards the books as his own. They were gifts from Ingram.

At the reading of the will, it’s learned that Ingram has left his entire estate to nurse Julie. Much huffing and harrumphing arises. Surely, she’ll be happy to sign it all over to nephew Donald, right?

Hmmm… No. Julie says she’ll keep the legacy.

Lawyer Duprex talks to his former client’s nephew and brother-in-law. He knows of an earlier will that names Donald as the sole heir. For a consideration—a part of the inheritance—he can find that will. As he’s wrapping up a few things the night, the door opens. A hand appears, bearing a ring that Ingram often wore. Terrified, Duprex backs into a corner. He is later found dead, strangled to death (in much the same way Ingram tried to strangle Cummins…), a look of terror on his face.

Could it be the vengeful hand of Francis Ingram, back from the dead to make sure that his beloved Julie gets the inheritance he wanted her to have? Is it Julie herself, not willing to risk losing her inheritance and not trusting Duprex any farther than she can throw him?

What of the piano music that starts playing in the middle of the night? When everyone comes rushing out, the music stops. No one is at the piano or, indeed, anywhere near it.

Commissario Ovidio Castanio investigate.

Thoughts:

This is based on a 1919 (rev. 1928) novelette of the same name by William Fryer Harvey. It is moody and atmospheric. The elderly Ingram, paralyzed and surrounded by people paid to care for him, works to keep his usable hand strong. He is demanding of himself and of those who work for him. Severely disabled, he remains determined to flourish with what abilities he has. Hilary Cummins, the bookish, determined astrologer, is convinced he’s near a breakthrough in his studies. He just needs more time. Julie cares for her charge, but the heaviness of the house is beginning to wear on her. She wants out.

Peter Lorre’s portrayal of the wrapped-too-tightly Hilary Cummins is probably the highlight of the movie. How can Ingram send him away? What will happen to all his important books? How can the Arlingtons talk about selling them? Even when they realize the books are part of Julie’s inheritance, they belittle Cummins, telling him he was only living off Ingram’s generosity.

The piano playing—with and without shots of the hand at the keyboard—is genuinely spooky. How does that happen? Is Ingram working on his form from beyond the grave?

The gothic atmosphere is relieved with some humorous scenes, such as the opening sequence where Conrad sells a “genuine” antique cameo to an American tourist couple. The couple is delighted, but the Commissario is not. There is also one scene where the villa servants depart, suitcases in hand. They’ve had enough.

The question of reality and illusion comes up. The Commissario says he does not believe in ghosts, but he begins to wonder. The viewer has seen the hand. It’s real—right?

Despite a couple bit of melodrama and a few instances of huh? that-makes-no-sense, I like this movie.


*referred to as Conrad Ryler in the credits.


Title: The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
Directed by
Robert Florey

Writing Credits
Curt Siodmak…(screenplay)
William Fryer Harvey…(from a story by)
Harold Goldman…(additional dialogue)(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert Alda…Conrad Ryler
Andrea King…Julie Holden
Peter Lorre…Hilary Cummins
Victor Francen…Francis Ingram
J.Carrol Naish…Ovidio Castanio

Released: February 7, 1946
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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