Welcome back to Halloweek! TMP’s annual celebration of all things spooky in the days leading up to Halloween has been extended from four days to seven! Today we’re doing the monster mash with The Beast with Five Fingers. Stay tuned for more through Tuesday!
“Though I think of death, I don’t anticipate it yet.”
Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) was once a well-known, respected pianist, but he’s become somewhat reclusive in recent years. After suffering a stroke, he’s retreated to his manor, a very large house on the edge of a very small Italian village.
While perhaps less active than he once was, Ingram isn’t exactly isolated. Joining him at his manor are his nurse Julie (Andrea King), a musicologist (Peter Lorre), a close friend (Robert Alda), and Ingram’s nephew (John Alvin).
Ingram calls everyone to a formal dinner one night, where he reveals his will and asks them all to sign it. His fortune will be left to Julie, with whom he is in love. This doesn’t sit well with the rest of the guests, who are in turn disinherited.
Soon after, Ingram turns up dead. Is one of the disinherited men to blame, or is there something more sinister lurking in that old Italian mansion?
The Beast with Five Fingers was directed by Robert Florey. The screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak from a story by William Fryer Harvey.
Set in beautiful Italy around the turn of the 20th century, The Beast with Five Fingers stars out as somewhat of a plain drama. It’s just a story of a reclusive old man, and the people attempting to care for him.
The tone shifts when Ingram invites the whole gang to dinner and it becomes clear that something fishy is going on with him. He has everyone sign his will, and then plays an eerie song for them on the piano.
Things only get spookier from there, the story growing into “whodunit” suspense and psychological intrigue. The film takes its sweet time jumping into the mystery but once it gets there, it’s gripping. In one of many clever bits of photography, the film depicts Ingram’s distorted vision just before he dies, leaving the viewer (and all of Ingram’s associates) wondering who was responsible for his fate.
TMP favorite Peter Lorre is fantastic here as a musicologist/astrologist in Ingram’s inner circle. It would be impossible to overstate just how great he is in this film. So odd, and so menacing, as only Peter Lorre could be!
There are a few small problems. While I found Julie and Conrad to be a cute pair, their romance did take up a bit too much time, which could have instead been used on more suspense and thrills.
But on the whole, The Beast with Five Fingers is semi-serious, semi-campy fun as Ingram’s amputated hand returns from the dead to haunt those who signed his will. It’s a ridiculous premise, but for the most part it’s played seriously, and effectively so! There are some genuinely spine-chilling scenes, but a few laughs, too.
The Beast with Five Fingers has everything you could want for the Halloween season: Peter Lorre in all his bug-eyed glory, a disembodied hand running around a spooky mansion. I would definitely recommend adding this fun flick to your end-of-October roster.