The Beast With Five Fingers, 1946. 8/10

A very entertaining and spooky murder mystery. Peter Lorre is at his best as moony-eyed, nutjob astrologer secretary to the cadaverous Victor Francen’s Ingram. The mansion, with all its medieval flourishes, exudes character.

A fine supporting cast; although I found Andrea King’s Julie a bit wooden. Playing opposite so many guys, she adds little, except perhaps in her last scene with Lorre. After a long lead-up, the pace picks up steam after Ingram’s death. His severed hand becomes a character, as a sort of ghost/delusion.

We are left with a fairly logical explanation of the apparent supernatural stuff: Lorre, not quite all there initially, goes over the verge of sanity. Cleverly, his delusion of the hand’s ‘revenge’ is an outgrowth of his own plot to scare off and eliminate those who would toss him and his books aside.

Robert Alda’s Conrad is an interesting character too. He’s sympathetic, yet hardly above-board. He has even less claim on Ingram’s estate than Lorre/Hilary, but also much to lose. Of course marrying Julie represents his trump card. His outsider quality gives us a window, so to speak, to the goings-on at the mansion. Like the Commassario, he functions as both a witness and a participant.

I’d like to have seen more exposition of Lorre’s relationship to Francen. It might’ve been more interesting if Francen/Ingram shared Lorre’s fascination with the New-Agey stuff. That could’ve enhanced the supernatural explanation of subsequent events. At a more basic level, it’s hard to see why the hand goes after Lorre, whether it’s appearing of its own volition or not. When he was alive Ingram tried to kill Hilary; if anything, it should then be Hilary who goes after him. Hilary does try to ‘kill’ the hand, but only after it has gone on a ‘murder’ rampage. Maybe there’s too many supporting characters to allow for fleshing out the principals with more scenes.

I usually don’t like campy stuff tacked onto a dark atmosphere, but it works here. The Commassario seems to go out of his way to drop a hint, with his final enigmatic laugh at the audience, that there’s yet more to the story. His dropped glove surely is just a tease, but how is it that Ingram’s ring is on his finger now?

Even with a few false steps, The Beast With Five Fingers is an engaging experience. 8/10.

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