RIGHT HAND OF THE DEVIL (1963).
Turkish-born character actor Aram Katcher spent the 1950s toiling away in uncredited bit parts or playing ethnic bad guys in B-movies like THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN and EAST OF SUMATRA, while supplementing his income as the owner and chief hairdresser at Aram's, a West Los Angeles beauty salon on South Fairfax. But in the early-'60s, Katcher finally decided to take control of Hollywood career by self-financing this unjustifiably-forgotten black-and-white vanity project. Shot over four weekends, with a crew of four and an under-$20,000 budget, auteur-wannabe Katcher was not only credited as the film's star, director, producer, and story creator, but also worked as its editor, title designer, costume designer, property man, and make-up supervisor! Though a bit of a ragged mess at times, the end result gets major points for its offbeat rhythms, hardboiled ambiance and some particularly brutal plot twists... Katcher plays swarthy Pepe Lusara, who choppers into Los Angeles, rents a sumptuous Laurel Canyon mansion and gets to work on a highly-profitable criminal score. Acting like some type of diabolical, egomaniacal criminal mastermind, this poor man's Keyser Soze hires a ragtag four-man crew -- Spooky (Chris Randall), Carter (Monte Lee), Sammy (James V. Christy), and wheel-man Williams (Brad Trumbull) -- with a kooky plan to rob the Hollywood Sports Arena on the morning after a heavyweight championship fight, when the place will have a quarter-million in cash on hand. But does Lusara have larger ambitions that he's keeping under wraps? If not, why is the guy continually filling his bathtub with caustic, steaming acid stolen from a ludicrously unsecure industrial lab? In fact, everything Lusara does is another piece in his convoluted plan. At a smoky jazz club, Pepe seduces matronly Elizabeth Sutherland (Lisa McDonald) -- who also happens to be the Arena's chief cashier -- utilizing groan-inducing pick-up lines such as "I like a piano that's been played" and whisking the lonely old broad to a bungalow at the "Happy-Happy Motel." Wining-and-dining lovesick Elizabeth over the next few weeks, he pumps her for info about her job while eyeing her workplace keys. In the end, Lusara's colleagues are screw-ups, the actual theft is somewhat preposterous and Pepe wears various crude disguises, but the script saves a few wonderfully warped twists for its final reel -- heartless bastard Pepe despises any loose ends, Elizabeth isn't as gullible as she initially seems, plus there's a gruesome, not-quite-dead acid plunge and vengeful, disfigured killer... Lusara is a weasely little creep and Katcher desperately chews through his first (and only) opportunity to be a leading man, while also showcasing his behind-the-camera acumen. And while the end result might've been too raw and quirky for mainstream audiences, it's a perfect fit for the cult contingent. Ironically, one of the few things that Katcher didn't put his name on -- the cinematography -- is the film's most effective element, with Fouad Said (who later produced ACROSS 110th STREET and HICKEY & BOGGS) making excellent use of the city's natural locations and nightclubs, including Dino's Lodge on the Sunset Strip. Sprinkled with oddball throwaways (e.g., Lusara's HQ is an ornate mansion partially burnt-out from a recent fire, Elizabeth's bedtime reading is The Modern Sex Manual), RIGHT HAND OF THE DEVIL is lovably half-baked and fueled by low-budget chutzpah. Alas, Katcher's proposed follow-up feature, SINCE CAIN AND ABEL, never came together and he promptly went back to shampoos and permanents, while occasionally popping up in negligible TV guest spots, like playing Napoleon on an episode of I DREAM OF JEANNIE or a Peter Lorre-esque villain on IT TAKES A THIEF.
© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.