Carnival of Sinners

07/13/2023 08:54

Film: Carnival of Sinners (La main du diable)

Year: 1943

Director: Maurice Tourneur

Writers: Jean-Paul Le Chanois

Starring: Pierre Fresnay, Josseline Gaël and Noël Roquevert



This is a movie that I discovered when looking for horror films from 1943. It took me a bit to find and had to watch it through the Criterion Channel. When confirming that this was the right movie, I noticed that last name of the director, Tourneur. It turns out that Maurice is the father of Jacques, a director that I’ve been watching more of their works as of late. Other than that, I came into this one blind.

Synopsis: Roland Brissot (Pierre Fresnay) bought a talisman for a nickel that gives him love, fame and wealth. The talisman is a severed left hand and it works perfectly. Of course, nothing is free in this world and after one year, the devil comes and asks for his dues.

We start this with a great shot of picturesque mountains. Nestled in them is a cabin. This seems like a resort. There is buzz here as the roads leading in and out are blocked. Volunteers are asked to help. I should point out that these are the Alps close to Italy.

A stranger then arrives. He only has one hand. This turns out to be Roland. Since coming in, his presence draws attention. He also has a package with him. There are gunshots and then the police show up as well, looking for someone dressed in all black. The lights go out and when they come back on, Roland is upset that his package has been stolen. He then tells us the story of what led him here.

Roland is a painter. He is struggling, but his girlfriend has faith in him. Her name is Irène (Josseline Gaël). She takes his works to sell it. There are events where Roland encounters a man who is trying to sell a box. Inside is the severed hand from the synopsis. He cannot give it away and it must always be sold at a loss. Without thinking much of it, Roland buys it. That night he blacks out, paints with his left hand and it turns out to be his best work.

It is from here that he is a success. There is a gallery opening and things are looking up for Roland. He keeps the hand in the box. We see an interesting scene where with only his left hand, he wraps the box in paper and ties it up. This amazes Irène. Roland also sees this small man that is dressed nice with a hat. No matter where Roland goes, he sees him. This guy even comes to the gallery opening. It is then that he reveals his identity. He lays out the rules of the hand. Roland’s soul belongs to this man. There is no way for Roland to sell it for less than what he bought it for.

The terms then become, for every day from here out that he has it, the item doubles in value. If he gives up, he loses everything. If decides to keep it, then the deal stays the same. The stress of this decision weighs on him and the devil is truly in the details as well.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I didn’t realize what type of story we’d get here. This feels like classic with being almost a variation on Faust. I did see this is based on a novel so I’m taking it that this used the premise to do its own thing. There are also vibes of the Monkey’s Paw. This talisman brings you material things and being happy, but just at what cost.

This premise is where I’ll go then. I’m taking that before Roland obtained this talisman, he was a struggling artist. It looks like he has talent, he just hadn’t found his place that would allow him to take off. When he buys this item, he does it just on a whim. I don’t think he believes that it will do anything. There is an interesting concept to explore. Does this item have power of is it in his head? It made me think of things like Space Jam when Michael Jordan comes up with the idea of the secret drink to give them confidence. Having this item could be giving Roland this confidence. It is shaken when this guy comes, claiming to be who he is and that payment is due. This could be the event to shake his confidence. He then worries about money and lashes out at Irène. I like that this could all be in his head. Or may have struck up a deal with the devil, giving him what he needed to succeed.

Now there is a religious angle here. Roland has an experience or a dream of sorts where he meets the other owners of this item. They all meet different ends. The origin of the hand is revealed and it belonged to a monk. There is an interesting loophole here that I don’t love. It does fit in line though with the idea that you can’t enter an agreement on false pretenses. Heck, there is a commentary here on reading the fine print before agreeing. It does feel like something like Bedazzled could be borrowing elements from this novel as well. What also works, there is a way to read it that Roland’s success comes from confidence and that there are not supernatural elements. This is him continuing to reconcile in his head. Personally, I think his deal and everything happened. I just like that there is an argument against it that I don’t think is wrong either.

I’m not sure if there is more that I can go into for the story so then over to the acting. Fresnay is good as our lead. I like that at first, he doesn’t believe. It isn’t until he is stressed about being able to pay off his deal and when that is taken, he panics. The stress gets to him which is good. That raises tension. Gaël works as his counterpart. What I like is that she seems madly in love with him before he is successful. When he’s made it and he is deciding what to do, she does subtle things with her character that makes you think if Roland gives up the item, he loses her. Their arch together is heartbreaking. I’d also credit Palau here. He plays this villainous character in a way where you don’t know if he is who he says. He isn’t over the top and he just plants seeds of doubt. I was a fan there. I’d say that the rest of the cast works with them to push Roland to where he ends up.

Then all that is left is filmmaking. I did have a slight issue with the story starting. It took me about the first 15 minutes to settle in. Once I figured out what we were doing, I went for the ride. This has good cinematography so that helps. I love when Roland is seeing this man everywhere and it makes him nervous. It almost feels like It Follows may have borrowed this idea. The man is just non-descriptive which adds to it. There aren’t the need for effects here. No issues with what we get. I like the look of this severed hand. I’d also say that the soundtrack fits for what was needed without standing out as well.

In conclusion, this is an interesting little story. It’s basic in its plot. This man buys an item that might give him luck to succeed. It could also be in his head where he now has the confidence due to purchasing it. What helps there is the acting of Fresnay. I’d say it is him and the rest of the cast are solid. This is a well-made movie. The cinematography would lead the way there. This is one that I’d recommend to fans of this era of cinema. It doesn’t do anything great, but I like the ride that it took me on. Be advised that this is from France and from the 1940s.


My Rating: 8 out of 10