No one can escape the hands of Orlac!

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Released 6 May 1924 in Austria, The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände) was based on French writer Maurice Renard’s 1920 fantasy-horror novel Les Mains d’Orlac, part of a subgenre now termed body horror. As its name suggests, body horror involves violations of the body through mutilation, disease, extreme violence, mutation, unnatural movements, etc.

Germany approved the film for release on 24 September 1924, for adults only. In January 1925, Saxony’s Ministry of the Interior filed a censorship petition which was rightly rejected as ridiculous.

The Hands of Orlac didn’t reach the U.S. till 1928.

The film was directly remade in 1935 and 1960, in addition to inspiring many other films and TV shows.

The film opens with Paul Orlac’s wife Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina, née Aleksandra Tsvikevich) reading a letter where he promises he’ll be home soon. In an obvious bit of foreshadowing, Orlac proclaims how he can’t wait to run his hands through her hair and over her body again.

We then meet Orlac (Conrad Veidt), a successful concert pianist who’s concluding a tour. Disaster strikes when his train home gets into a very serious accident. Though Orlac is among the survivors pulled from the wreckage, he suffers a fractured skull and the loss of his precious hands.

Yvonne begs the surgeon, Dr. Serral (Hans Homma), to save her husband’s hands, which are more valuable to him than his life. Towards this end, Dr. Serral transplants the hands of a recently executed criminal.

Orlac suspects something funny is up even before the bulky bandages come off, and the funny feeling continues after he sees “his” hands again. When Orlac awakes from a horrific nightmare, he finds a note in his lap admitting the terrible truth.

He goes to confront Dr. Serral, who confirms this disturbing information.

Orlac vows to never let these criminal hands touch another person, a resolve which is put to the test when he returns home to his loving wife. He can barely even bring himself to touch his beloved piano.

Orlac is even more horrified when he learns more about Vasseur, the criminal whose hands he now bears, since Vasseur’s guilt was conclusively established by fingerprints all over everything.

It gets worse when Orlac finds a knife in his house identical to the one Vasseur used. He’s now convinced these hands have given him a propensity to violence, though that’s never been in his nature.

A phantom force compels Orlac towards the knife he hid in the piano, and Yvonne catches him stabbing at the air in the middle of the night. Orlac orders her to stay away from him, and she retreats in fear.

Orlac’s next move is to try cutting his hands off, but he regains his senses. He then gets into trouble with the maid, Regine (Carmen Cartellieri), who just feuded with her lover. Orlac puts his hands on her head, and she says they feel like the hands of a killer.

Orlac goes to confront Dr. Serral, begging him to remove the cursed hands, but Dr. Serral tries to tell him the body is ruled by one’s head and heart, not the hands.

Meanwhile, creditors are hassling Yvonne. Since Orlac refuses to play the piano with criminal hands, there’s no money coming in. Yvonne begs for a month, but they only give her till tomorrow. She wants to go to her rich father-in-law for help, but Regine says he’s an awful person who hates their family.

Just as Regine predicted, Orlac, Sr. refuses to help.

Regine says Orlac must go to his dad to beg. Though this greatly upsets Yvonne, she knows there’s no choice.

When Orlac arrives at his dad’s house, the greatest horrors of all begin unfolding.

Real-life horror: Fritz Strassny, né Straßni (Orlac’s dad), who was Jewish, was dismissed from Austria’s venerable Burgtheater in 1938. He was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and murdered two and a half weeks later.

Conrad Veidt, who was strongly anti-Nazi, escaped to England with his Jewish wife just ahead of a Gestapo death squad’s arrival at their house in 1933.

Naina and Katya Arrive in America

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This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version, such as in the pedantic use of accent marks and the name of Katrin’s husband. His name is now Sandro, not Sandros.

***

So begins Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America,” and the linking-up of their story with the story arc of the main characters. Katrin’s husband Sandros, an Ellis Island worker, notices the girls as they’re unboarding, and is moved to helping them remain in the country by sponsoring them.

***

Sándros watches the people unboarding a ship from Varna, Bulgaria on Thursday, June 16. He knows how lucky these people are to be allowed entry to the United States, given the racist quotas limiting Eastern European immigration. At first he wondered why some of the people unboarding look more like tourists than immigrants, and was told by one of his superiors that the passengers include a young dance troupe who’ll be performing in the city and several other locales. At least the dancers will be easier to process than the people who are coming to stay, he thinks as his eyes are drawn to two young ladies who seem a bit out of place in the crowd.

“Do you speak Russian?” the younger one asks nervously.

“It’s my native language, though I’m actually Estonian. But aren’t you young ladies Bulgarian? Are you some of the White Russians who escaped to Bulgaria and are only now coming to the United States?”

“We’re coming from the Ukraine,” the older one says. “I was born there, though I’m an ethnic Russian. Both of us were living in Russia till sometime in late 1919, when we were shipped to an orphanage in Belarus and then to an orphanage in the Ukraine, where we remained till last January. We went to Bulgaria this April, on the pretense of taking a cruise, and were met by a man who put us up in a hotel until this ship was due to take off. We’re not really in the dance troupe. Our good man who arranged to put us on the ship to Bulgaria said we could declare political asylum once we got here.”

“We’re not going to be sent back, are we? My younger cousin disappeared on the train taking us from the orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and I hate to imagine what her fate might be if she’s still alive and well. For all I know she’s being taught we’re enemies of the people for wanting to get out of there. I was already concerned at how the orphanage teachers got her to adopt a quasi-worshipful attitude towards Lénin.”

“Do you girls have a place to stay, jobs, or any money?” Sándros asks. “I’m sure they’ll grant you political asylum, since this country hates the Soviet Union and Socialism in general, but customs have been known to send people back if they can’t produce any proof of waiting work, a place to stay, or people sponsoring them. For the last three years, the only people coming through here are war refugees and displaced people. The peak immigration days are over. In fact, this serves as more of a detention and deportation center than immigration station now.”

“But that’s not fair!” the older girl protests. “This is supposed to be the richest and best country in the world! Why are they turning away deserving people who’ve been through a lot to get here?”

“In 1924, a racist immigration act was passed, severely limiting immigrants from places that make the establishment uncomfortable. That includes Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as Asia. There’s a lot of hostility towards foreigners in this country, sadly, particularly if you’re not from Western Europe. Do you have anybody you know who’d come to get you?”

“I have a feeling my aunt is alive and escaped Russia,” the younger one says. “Though I have no idea where she is, or if she came to Canada instead of the United States. I did hear some things about how Canada was more welcoming to immigrants these days.”

Sándros looks around as the arrivals continue entering the building. “I may be Estonian, but I have connections to the Russian immigrant community because my wife is friends with a lot of Russians. She lived in Russia from April of 1917 to February 1921 and came here with a number of her Russian friends. We also know some Russians who settled in Toronto, Canada. One of our friends might be able to find some information for you. In the meantime, I’ll offer myself as your sponsor. When they ask you who’s sponsoring you or where you’re going to stay, you provide my name and address.” He writes it down on a notepad and rips the sheet out. “What are your names, by the way?”

“I’m Kátya Chernomyrdina and I’m nineteen, and that’s my best friend Naína Yezhova. She’s fifteen. Her aunt and my mother were best friends too. That’s how we met each other when we were tiny.” Kátya looks at the information he’s written down in Cyrillic. “Your name doesn’t look very Russian or Estonian to me.”

“Well, my surname had to come from somewhere, and not all Russians or Russified Balts have names reflecting that. I think my parents were trying to give me a Greek-sounding name, since we’re Eastern Orthodox. Anyway, I’ll come to get you either later today or tomorrow morning. My wife and I have to go to a wedding on Saturday, so you can get settled into our penthouse while we’re gone. My wife has a lot of money, and every summer she finances a trip for us and our friends to Coney Island and Long Island. There are a lot of other Russians in the hotel we stay at on Coney Island, and there are also a fair number of Russians at the place we stay at on Long Island.

“Would you like to come as our guests? It doesn’t sound like you really had a childhood, and it might be nice to enjoy amusement parks and beaches instead of spending your first months here worrying about making a living, finding housing, or tracking down friends and relatives. We can put you in a room adjoining one of our hotel rooms on Coney Island, and then let you have one of the floors of the house we rent on Long Island. There are five stories, and one of them has been free for the last couple of years. My wife’s friends had a falling-out with two women who were staying with us that first year.”

“You’re an angel!” Naína says. “What a nice way to come to North America!”

An early talkie like few others

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Released 20 August 1929, King Vidor’s Hallelujah! is a triumph of early talkies. Unlike almost all others from this creaky era, Hallelujah! has very fluid camera work. It’s also notable for being the first all-Black film by a major studio. Prior, such films only came from “race studios” and were largely ignored.

Hallelujah! was considered so risky and unprofitable, King Vidor was forced to finance it with his own salary. TPTB were convinced white Americans would have no interest, though many plays with all-African-American casts had been very successful.

Unfortunately, owing to the racist climate of the times, King Vidor had to play it up as a film about sexual deviance to get MGM president Nicholas Schenck to accept it. Schenck responded, “Well, if you think like that, I’ll let you make a picture about whores.”

Zeke (Daniel L. Haynes) is a Southern cotton sharecropper who’s poor but happy. His entire family lives together in a cramped one-room house, but they’re very close. Harvesting their cotton crop is their only income for the entire year, so it’s a cause for celebration.

During the festivities, neighbors Adam and Eve, who have eleven children, show up and ask Zeke’s parson father, Pappy, to marry them. Pappy is initially hesitant because they’re all but legally married, but ultimately agrees, since “It’s never too late to do the Lord’s work.”

Zeke goes inside during the wedding and makes advances on his foster sister Missy Rose (blues singer Victoria Spivey), who’s playing the piano. She rebuffs him at first, then relents and professes affection.

In the morning, Zeke and his brother Spunk sell their harvest for $200. Instead of immediately going home with Spunk, Zeke heads off to the pier and meets singer-dancer Chick (Nina Mae McKinney). And thus all Zeke’s troubles begin.

Zeke follows Chick to a juke joint, where Chick and her partner Hot Shot swindle him out of all his money. Zeke is no dummy, and realises he’s been tricked and cheated. During the ensuing fight, Spunk shows up looking for Zeke.

Things go from bad to worse, and tragedy strikes, shaking Zeke to his very core.

Mammy knows something isn’t right when her oldest sons’ bed is still empty in the middle of the night. Her cries are a chain reaction, and soon the entire family is praying for their safe return and imagining the worst.

Zeke returns with nothing but bad news and heartache, and blames himself for the tragedy. While lamenting what happened, his train of thought becomes increasingly spiritual and eventually becomes a spirited sermon. Everyone is drawn to his comforting words.

Zeke is moved to become a preacher, and goes on the road with revival meetings. His new career brings financial prosperity to his family, much better than their income from cotton sharecropping.

Who should appear at a revival meeting but Chick! As Zeke preaches, Chick is moved to religious fervor and gets baptised in the river, much to the family’s displeasure. She’s so overcome with ecstasy, Zeke has carry her into a tent.

Temptation strikes, but is nipped in the bud by Mammy. That night, Zeke confesses to Missy Rose he’s at war with the Devil. Missy Rose finds it hard to believe a big, strong man like Zeke could be afraid of the Devil. Zeke says he doesn’t want the Devil to win, but temptation is so strong.

Zeke then thinks of a solution, marrying Missy Rose. If he has a wife, he can’t possibly be tempted by another woman.

Zeke’s commitment to defeating temptation doesn’t last long, and neither does Chick’s religious conversion. Hot Shot is convinced this isn’t the real her, and that she’s a natural sinner. The next time Zeke sees Chick, he abandons his ministry and family to run away with her.

Who will triumph in this age-old battle between good and evil, and will Zeke be able to find his way back to righteousness before any further tragedy and turmoil erupt?

I absolutely loved this film. The fluidity of the camera is amazing for 1929. The editing and mixing are also lightyears ahead of other early talkies. Hallelujah! was a huge success, startling considering none of the players were professional actors.

Though some criticise the film as racist, and Paul Robeson (one of my heroes) turned down the role of Zeke for that very reason, one must consider context and intent. Outside of race films like Oscar Micheaux’s, how many other films of this era dared to have an all-Black cast and depict them as fully-rounded people with a story that could, with a few alterations, just as easily be about white people?

Karla’s Indoctrination Gets Underway

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This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. Karla’s adoptive family’s name is now Savvin, and I expunged the pedantic accent marks, in addition to a few other edits here and there. Ginny and his mother’s move back to Russia was also changed to 1914 from 1917, so Ginny was seven, not ten.

***

Since her unexpected arrival in January, Kárla has become well-ensconced in the Stálin household. Leoníd puts in as much time with her as he can in between work, politics, and going out with friends, but Kárla feels strange about starting to call any man Papa at her age. Leoníd has agreed it might not happen overnight, if it happens at all, and lets her call him by his nickname Lyonya. She’s taken much more easily to calling his parents Dédushka Yura and Bábushka Ínnushka.

Kárla is now nine years old, and in the third grade at a state-run school. Nélya, who just turned five years old, is in the nursery class in the school, and walks to and from school with Kárla every day. Kárla misses Naína and Kátya, but feels relatively placated by having an unofficial little sister to play with and take care of. She also loves helping and playing with two-and-a-half-year-old Ínga.

“She resembles her father so much,” Geórgiya comments as she works on a paper for one of her classes at her teaching college. “They have the same azure eyes and black hair.  He was on the tall side for his age, but not a giant. I wonder if she’ll be tall too.”

“How come her patronymic’s Grigóriyevna if you say her father’s real name is Mikhaíl?” Kárla asks as she helps Ínga build a tower with blocks. “Did you not want people to find out his real identity and get you in trouble?”

“No one ever called him Mikhaíl unless he were in trouble, or on official documents. I always called him Grigóriy. I know it’s strange for a Russian to have an actual middle name, not simply a patronymic, but he was born in East Prussia and lived there till he was ten years old. His parents were copying the locals in giving him a middle name. Everyone else calls him Ginny.”

“Zhénya? But that’s the nickname for Yevgéniy.”

“Ginny. It was his childish mispronunciation of the word ‘genie,’ which was his parents’ nickname for him. Now instead of having a more grownup nickname, he’s forever going to answer to a name gotten from a babyish mispronunciation. And I’m told Ginny is a woman’s name in the English-speaking world.”

“He’s lucky he got to reunite with his parents in America. I don’t know what happened to my parents, though I think my father must be dead, and my mother was in prison, my cousin told me. She thinks my mother got out of prison and went to North America, but that’s probably just what she wants to believe.”

“Do you really want to see your parents again, if either is alive? Sure some people were mistakenly put in prison, or went there for non-political reasons, but you’ve said your cousin and your friend told you your parents were anti-Lénin. They were enemies of the people. Ínga’s father is from an anti-Lénin family, but they weren’t so stupid they got in trouble for that. They weren’t actively protesting against him or doing outrageous things like using his picture as toilet rags.”

“I’m too young to understand politics. I only know what I was taught at the orphanage, that Comrade Lénin was a hero who brought the Russian Empire into the modern era. My parents were very mistaken for being opposed to him. Naína is the daughter of my mother’s sister, and their family was also anti-Lénin.”

“You were taught correctly. And I’m sure your families weren’t bad, evil people just because they had a different of political opinion. It’s just that they were severely wrong. I believe enemies of the people can be rehabilitated. Some of them genuinely didn’t know the truth and were under the influence of Tsarist propaganda. Did you know the Tsar had only point zero zero six percent of Russian blood in his traitorous body? We figured this out in a mathematics class I took some years back. I hope our new leader will be another proud Russian. Our homeland deserves to be ruled by our own people.”

“It’s taking so long for them to choose a permanent new leader. Comrade Lénin was taken away from us almost three years ago.”

“Oh, things will settle down soon. I’m annoyed at the delay in choosing a definitive supreme leader too, but these things happen when you’ve never had a change in power in a new empire before. So long as it’s not that stupid Georgian whom Comrade Lénin was said not to like, the one who adopted my family’s name when he got into politics. I don’t want to be ruled by a non-Russian again, and if Comrade Lénin disliked him, he must’ve had valid reasons for doing so. With any luck, it’ll be someone he liked and wanted to succeed him.”

“I wish your family could adopt Naína and Kátya too. They said they were planning to write to our friends at the orphanage while they were still in the country. If only I remembered the address of our old orphanage, I could write and ask where they are.”

“You don’t need them. If they’re trying to leave our glorious Soviet state, they’re enemies of the people. I’m sure they’re not aware of being enemies of the people, but their beliefs and actions aren’t in line with Soviet policy. It’s too bad they couldn’t be successfully retaught in the orphanage, the way you were.”

“I’m the one who’s going to share in the future glories of the Soviet Union,” Kárla says proudly. “Maybe it is their loss if they wanted to leave and not give our new government a chance. But I still miss them, and don’t understand how they could be enemies of the people.”

“There are degrees of enemies of the people, to be sure. They were more the garden variety type than belligerents who get sent to prison or Siberia. But make no mistake, you’re far better off here than you’d be abroad. Some force greater than yourself, what enemies of the people might call God, moved you to walk on top of that train and made you fall off and break your leg. It must be because you were meant to stay here, because your destiny lies in the modern Soviet Union and not the unenlightened West.”

***************************************************

Hitchcock’s triumphant talkie début

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The great Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie was screened to cinema distributors and press on 21 June 1929 at Regal Arch’s Marble Cinema, and had its grand première on 28 July at London’s Capitol cinema. Though it started production as a silent, Hitchcock decided to switch to the new technology.

Producer John Maxwell gave him permission to make it a hybrid. Hitchcock didn’t like that idea very much, and secretly filmed almost everything in sound, using RCA Photophone. He also made a silent version for theatres not yet wired for sound.

Leading lady Anny Ondra (pictured above) had a thick Czech accent, which was considered undesirable for her role. Since post-dubbing technology didn’t yet exist, and Hitchcock didn’t want to replace her, Joan Barry was called in to speak her dialogue off-camera while Anny lip-synced.

Critics and the public loved Blackmail. It was one of the most popular and successful 1929 releases, and voted the best film of that year. Because most British theatres weren’t wired for sound, the silent version proved more popular, and had a longer running time.

Blackmail was filmed at British and Dominions Imperial Studios of Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, Europe’s first purpose-built sound studio. Though there were prior British talkies, Blackmail was one of the first all-talking features, with sound recorded in real time instead of dubbed in later.

Though both sound and silent versions survive, the sound version is more widely-available and better-remembered. Some critics, however, still prefer the silent version.

Hitchcock’s cameo starts about ten minutes in, and is one of his longest, at nineteen seconds. The director is bothered by a little boy as he reads a book on the London Underground.

Frank Webber (John Longden), a Scotland Yard detective, is dating Alice White (Anny Ondra). While they’re at a teahouse, the couple begins arguing, and Frank becomes so annoyed and frustrated at Anny’s refusal to attend the movies, he cuts their date short.

Frank is rather displeased to presently see Alice leaving with artist Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard), who previously communicated with her via body language at the teahouse. When they arrive at Mr. Crewe’s studio, Alice is reluctant to go inside, but ultimately is convinced to enter.

Alice is immediately put at ease, and finds mirth in Mr. Crewe’s painting of a laughing clown. She then gets a painting lesson. To her simple face Mr. Crewe adds a naked female figure, and guides Alice’s hand as she signs her name.

Alice sees a ballerina dress while Mr. Crewe fetches drinks, and is convinced to model it for him. She’s outraged when Mr. Crewe kisses her, and starts changing her clothes.

Mr. Crewe takes away her original dress and tries to rape her. No one hears Alice’s cries for help, and she reaches through a curtain for a knife.

After Alice emerges from behind the curtain, she slashes the painting of the clown and paints over her name on the other painting. She very stealthily leaves the building after putting her clothes back on, but forgets her gloves.

All night, Alice wanders the streets of London in a daze, driven crazy by images of knives and thinking about those missing gloves.

Mr. Crewe’s body is discovered by his landlady, and Frank is assigned to the investigation. While in Mr. Crewe’s studio, he recognises one of Alice’s gloves and the dead artist both, but keeps mum.

In the morning, Alice’s mother informs her there was a murder around the corner during the night, and wonders why she’s still in bed. After Mrs. White leaves, Alice gets out of bed, still in her clothes from last night.

Alice goes downstairs to her dad’s tobacco shop, and is extremely rattled by talk about the murder and the repetition of the word “knife.”

Frank comes to speak with Alice and show her the glove, but she’s too shaken-up to say anything, even when they step into a phonebooth for privacy.

Customer Tracy (Donald Calthrop) arrives with the other glove. Even worse, he saw Alice going into Mr. Crewe’s studio and now discovers Frank has the first glove.

Tracy begins blackmailing Alice and Frank, with more and more outrageous demands. When it comes out Tracy has a criminal record, Frank calls the cops, who chase Tracy all the way onto the roof of the British Museum.

And the plot twists don’t end there.

Blackmail is one of the best early talkies I’ve seen. It doesn’t have the awkward, stagey style associated with most others. It easily feels like a 1930s film.