The Hand (1981) -*½
Let’s talk about Oliver Stone. That’s right, the Oliver Stone. Platoon. JFK. Nixon. Born on the Fourth of July. Serious films with a heavy freight of Message. Everybody has to start somewhere, though, and most of the heavyweights start off somewhat ignominiously. I call these embarrassing early movies “Leave It Off the Resume Movies.” The Hand is Oliver Stone’s contribution to this august genre-- not only did he direct it, he adapted its screenplay from a highly obscure novel called The Lizard’s Tail. Watch it, and see for yourself why the subject never seems to come up in interviews.
Michael Caine stars as Jon Lansdale, a successful professional cartoonist, creator of a Conan-like strip called Mandro, which appears to run daily or weekly in newspapers. He lives in a very comfortable house in rural Vermont with his wife, Anne (Andrea Marcovicci, from The Stuff and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone), and their roughly 8-year-old daughter. When I say that Lansdale is successful, I mean that solely in connection with his career. His marriage is visibly falling apart from the get-go, and he and Anne spend the opening 20 or so minutes of the movie arguing constantly, mainly about how Anne wants to take their daughter and move to New York City for the summer. It is during one of these arguments, staged in the front seat of their late-70’s Ford Granada, that an event transpires that sets in motion what passes for the main action of the movie. Anne speeds up and changes lanes to pass an incredibly slow-moving truck, and as the station wagon behind them pulls forward to take her place, another car comes around the bend in the opposite direction. Anne and the other two drivers manage to avoid crashing into each other, but Lansdale’s right hand-- his drawing hand-- is severed by the truck’s back bumper. You’re going to want to rewind this scene and watch it again-- it’s that funny. Sam Raimi never used this much blood. The later flashback, in which we see the accident from another angle, is even better; watch for the jarringly white and outrageously oversized hand shooting across the screen like something out of a Monty Python sketch.
Unfortunately, you just saw the high-water mark of the movie right there. What follows consists mainly of Jon Lansdale wincing in extreme close-up, fighting with his wife about the move she still wants to make, and fighting with his publisher about the future of Mandro. Occasionally, he will dream about his missing hand (which, by the way, was never found after the accident). Meanwhile, we the viewers are thinking, “Come on, man... this is supposed to be The Hand, not The Wince! Where’s the fucking hand?!” Our patience is rewarded, after a fashion, when Lansdale storms out of a meeting with his publisher and the new hack artist they want to succeed him at the helm of Mandro. (Best line of the scene: Lansdale says to the new guy, “You’ve put in all these fucking little bubbles where he’s thinking!”) Out on the street, Jon runs into a bum (played by Oliver Stone, incidentally), who tries to spare-change him. After Lansdale leaves the shot, the bum is strangled by the hand.
Then there’s some more plot... Lansdale gets a job teaching in California, Anne moves to New York and starts having an affair with the unsavory fitness guru she’s been going to, Lansdale has an affair with a very 70’s student of his (Annie McEnroe, from Warlords of the 21st Century and Snowbeast), and there’s no sign of the goddamned hand! It makes its belated appearance at the so-called climax, when Anne, the college girl, and the other professor she’s been screwing all get what’s coming to them before the hand turns on Jon. The cops arrive, Lansdale is arrested (who’s going to believe that anybody in California was killed by a hand severed in Vermont? That’s an awful long way to crawl on your fingers, buddy!), and it looks like he was crazy all along. As you might imagine, all of this is followed by a supposed surprise ending that tries to cast some doubt on the resolution arrived at earlier, while still leaving room for Lansdale to be the real culprit. Yeah, whatever.
I give The Hand a negative-star rating largely on the grounds that its amazing continuity gaps (So this hand crawled from Vermont to New York to California? Oh, and how much forearm is attached to that hand, anyway?) and rolling-on-the-floor-laughing dismemberment scene put it in the running for some kind of minimal appreciation from a so-bad-it’s-sort-of-okay angle. This is a trifle misleading, but the movie is frankly too bad despite its big-name star and director to earn any positive stars, and yet is not so thoroughly unwatchable as to merit the ultimate sanction of the zero-star rating. Nevertheless, it’s a wonder anyone ever gave Oliver Stone another job.