The Hands of Orlac (1924)


The movie The Hands of Orlac (1924) is an Austrian silent film directed by Robert Wiene and starring Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina, and Fritz Kortner². The plot revolves around a world-famous pianist, Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt), who loses his hands in a horrific railway accident².

Paul Orlac, a renowned concert pianist, suffers a devastating railway accident that results in the loss of his hands. His wife, Yvonne, implores a surgeon to save her husband’s hands. The surgeon decides to perform a transplant, using the hands of Vasseur, a recently executed murderer. Upon discovering the origin of his new hands, Orlac is consumed by horror and fear. He finds a knife identical to Vasseur’s at his home, which triggers a violent urge within him. He starts to believe that he has inherited the murderer’s violent tendencies along with his hands. Orlac confronts the surgeon, demanding the removal of the hands. However, the surgeon attempts to reassure him that actions are dictated by the mind and heart, not the hands.

Orlac finds that his new hands are incapable of playing the piano. Over time, he and Yvonne exhaust their finances. Their creditors give them one final day to settle their debts. Yvonne seeks financial help from Paul’s father, but he refuses. When Orlac visits his father, he discovers him fatally stabbed with a knife similar to Vasseur’s. He begins to suspect that he might have committed the murder. While at a café, he encounters a man claiming to be Vasseur. The man tells Orlac that the surgeon’s assistant reattached his head to his body after his execution. He then blackmails Orlac for money in exchange for his silence about the murder.

Meanwhile, the police find Vasseur’s fingerprints at the crime scene, leading to confusion. Paul and Yvonne decide to approach the police to explain the situation about Vasseur’s hands being transplanted onto Paul’s arms, despite Paul having no memory of killing his father. He also informs the police about the man claiming to be the executed murderer and the blackmail. It is revealed that the man is actually a notorious con artist named Nera. Orlac’s maid informs the police that Nera was an acquaintance of Vasseur and had created a pair of rubber gloves imprinted with Vasseur’s fingerprints, which were used during the murder. She also reveals that Vasseur was innocent of the crime for which he was executed, implying that Orlac now possesses the hands of an innocent man, not a murderer.


  • Conrad Veidt as Paul Orlac
  • Alexandra Sorina as Yvonne Orlac
  • Fritz Kortner as Nera
  • Carmen Cartellieri as Regine
  • Hans Homma as Dr. Serra
  • Fritz Strassny as Paul’s father
  • Paul Askonas as Servant


The film was incomplete for decades, due to footage that never made it into the American prints and footage that had been cut due to censorship in German prints¹.

The film was restored to its original length in 1995 by F. W. Murnau Stiftung¹.

The film was released in the United States over three years after its original release in Austria and Germany¹.

An entire reel was edited out of the USA import version of the film, prompting a mixed critical reception in the country¹.


“We’re in the realm of horror and symbolism, I know, but the film lacks the necessary venomous punch to become a true classic. ” [5]

“While the other films – with the arguable exception of Mad Love – have faded into the recesses of memory, the 1924 version of The Hands of Orlac continues to resonate in the public’s consciousness. As with many of the roles Conrad Veidt tackled in his still-too-short career, he put his unique signature upon the character of Paul Orlac, the tormented pianist, and made it his own, never to be equalled.” [4]


[1] IMDb

[2] Wikipedia

[3] 1000 Misspent Hours



Last updated byCody Meirick on November 27, 2023