As DVD quickly started to become the norm in the late '90s, many a classic horror film was brushed off and cleaned up so that its parent company could market yet another fan favorite in the then-new digital medium. To date, we've seen every notable thriller starring the likes of Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr. released on disc - but there was one noticeable entry from the filmography of one Peter Lorre that has always eluded us. Until now, that is. Penned by frequent Universal Horror scribe Curt Siodmak, the 1946 Warner Brothers chiller The Beast with Five Fingers practically beget a theme that would later recur and reoccur in filmdom: the plight of a killer severed hand.
Set in a remote Italian village, The Beast with Five Fingers' main protagonist is - as is usually the case - a handsome fellow (Robert Alda) who is in love with the film's secondary hero (Andrea King): a pretty young lady. In this instance, musicologist Bruce Conrad (Alda) makes a living selling illegal trinkets to tourists and transcribing music for reclusive pianist Francis Ingram (Victor Francen), who only has control of the left side of his body after a stroke. Taking care of him is a live-in nurse (King) - whose beauty has not only attracted Conrad, but her elderly patient as well. In fact, once Mr. Ingram passes on, he bequeaths his entire grand estate to the young lass - much to the chagrin of his greedy relatives (Charles Dingle and John Alvin).
But it's when the avaricious relations conspire to overturn the deceased's last will that things begin to turn weird, and soon, it appears that the dead man's now-severed hand is out on a murder spree - dispatching anyone who dare cross Ingram's final wishes. Never reaching the point of absurdity that, say, Oliver Stone's The Hand did 35-years later, The Beast with Five Fingers manages to keep its dignity for such a silly concept alive and enjoyable. Part of this is due, no doubt, to Siodmak - while some clever photography and optical effects due a much better job of depicting a disembodied extremity than contemporary CGI is able to do.
Third-billed Peter Lorre does a grand job of stealing the show wholesale as a creepy bookworm here, while the great J. Carrol Naish - who made a career out of playing "ethnic" characters - hams it up as the local constabulary who attempts to put the pieces together as the mystery unravels. Robert Florey - the filmmaker who not only directed Bela Lugosi in the 1932 version of Murders in the Rue Morgue, but who also attempted to wrangle The Four Marx Brothers in their very first film, The Cocoanuts - helms this forgotten gothic gem that is finally, after all these years, making its digital debut to DVD from the Warner Archive via their Manufactured-on-Demand lineup of rarities and damn fine goodies in-general.
Quality-wise, this Beast shows some wear (reportedly, the title was never issued on regular DVD due to the condition of the film), but looks just fine when all is said and done. The mono English soundtrack delivers admirably, and the only special feature included on the disc is an original theatrical trailer.
Recommended good ol' fashioned horror fun.