Directed by Maurice Tourneur [Other horror films: While Paris Sleeps (1923)]
This will be a somewhat quick write-up, if for no other reason, I just don’t have too much to really say about this French classic.
Sometimes known as Carnival of Sinners, this movie was another take on the whole deal-with-the-devil idea. As far back as Der Student von Prag, this has sometimes been an element in horror movies, so it’s not the most original content, but it is done quite well here, with a talisman being passed off from one person to another, and the central character here (Pierre Fresnay) tells the whole sordid story to a group at an inn.
To be fair, the movie feels more like a fantasy than it does a horror film for much of it, so it makes since that some of this wouldn’t be quite as interesting to me. To add to that, certainly that’s nothing to hold against the film – while I myself am not much a fantasy guy, plenty of people are, and given the rating this holds on IMDb (7.4/10), it’s fair to say I’m in the minority.
There are some clever things in the film, especially during a scene toward the end when we learn about each of the previous men who at one time possessed the talisman. Their origins are sort of told as though they’re plays, and it looked quite nifty, and the type of thing newer films wouldn’t really be able to replicate.
Pierre Fresnay was good as the lead, and Noël Roquevert (Diabolique) has some good scenes early on, but I think if there’s anyone who stands out, it’d have to be Palau, who played the Little Man (or, in terms more commonplace, the Devil). He had that charming personality that a Devil should have, and I think Palau had a good time playing the part.
With that in mind, La main du diable primarily felt, to me, like an extra long episode of The Twilight Zone. It just has that type of vibe, and while that’s not a bad thing, deal-with-the-devil stories aren’t really my preference, and so, while I appreciated plenty of technical aspect of the film, I can’t say it’s a French film I’d want to spend too much time with in the future.
I did think it was interesting, though, that this was directed by Maurice Tourneur, who is the father of Jacques Tourneur (the individual who directed classics such as Cat People, The Leopard Man, and I Walked with a Zombie), so while this isn’t a movie I was that fond of, I definitely appreciate other contributions his family made.