Plot: After somebody swipes his package, a mysterious stranger tells a crowd the story of how he happened upon a talisman, become a well-regarded painter, boinked a reasonably-attractive woman, and then realized that he was in a bit of trouble. It just proves that it's rarely a good idea to trust the devil.
This was directed by Maurice Tourneur, the father of Jacques Tourneur whose movies I always really enjoy. Dad's movie has the same otherworldly feel of Jacques Tourneur's stuff. There's a mystery that unfolds, but it's not all that mysterious once you figure out it's strange retelling of the Faust story. What does set La Main du Diable apart is that it's got an unusual style for a 1940's film. Tourneur cut his teeth on silent cinema in the 19-teens, and this very much feels like a silent horror movie with talking and other sounds. Quaint special effects, classic camera angles, and even an expressionist vibe--especially during a series of flashbacks (actually a flashback-within-a-flashback) detailing the history of the severed hand at the heart of this story. It's just a cool-looking film. I don't think there's a single part of this that anybody would describe as scary, so the horror tag is really inaccurate. It's ore of a cautionary tale, a fable, a quiet tragedy.
You don't really root for the protagonist because the protagonist isn't a likable guy. Unfortunately for Americans--since, you know, we're a Christian nation--we're actually forced to side with Beelzebub in this one. Pierre Palau plays that devil, or le pettite homme, and he plays him as a wrinkled trickster in a bowler. He's a really good devil.
A really good devil
I'm a sucker for movies with severed body parts anyway (I'm going to have to make a list some day), so I liked that the talisman was a severed left hand. Left, sinister. Have you ever looked up the etymology of that word? Fascinating word there. My favorite scene is that aforementioned flashback-within-a-flashback where the main character walks into a room to see a bunch of guys in animal masks dining on one side of a long table. Their stories relaying just how the talisman affected their lives were fun and not without a little bit of dark humor.
Definitely check this one out. It's not just an interesting little flick for the 1940s. It's an interesting little flick for any time.