I mentioned in my review of Body Parts that it was a variation of THE HANDS OF ORLAC, a 1920 novel by French author Maurice Renard. The book was first adapted to film in a 1920 silent starring Conrad Veidt. The story has been retold many times, in many different ways, but none have surpassed the 1935 adaptation MAD LOVE. This film really doesn’t get its due as one of the top horrors of the 1930s. Director Karl Freund (THE MUMMY) uses his background in German expressionism and, together with cinematographer Gregg Toland, gives us a Grand Guignol thriller that’s hard to resist.
Peter Lorre makes his American film debut as Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon obsessed with beautiful actress Yvonne Orlac. Yvonne is married to concert pianist Stephen Orlac, and rebuffs the strange looking doctor. Returning to Paris via train, Orlac sees the convicted knife-throwing murderer Rollo board, heading for the guillotine. The train is derailed, and Orlac’s hands are crushed in the wreckage. Yvonne pleads with Gogol to restore her husband’s hands. The doctor says he can do nothing at first, then has an idea. He grafts the hands of killer Rollo onto Orlac. The operation is successful, but Orlac cannot play piano the wat he once did. He has, however, gained a peculiar proficiency in knife throwing.
American reporter Reagan is trying to get a story about Rollo. Gogol was given the body, but won’t let Reagan or anyone else see it. You see, the doctor hasn’t told Orlac his hands once belonged to Rollo. Gogol then devises as scheme to drive Orlac mad by “power of suggestion”. He kills Orlac’s step-father, then tries to convince the pianist he did the deed himself. Gogol costumes himself as Rollo, telling Orlac his head was grafted back on, like Orlac’s hands. Orlac is arrested, but Reagan suspects Gogol’s up to no good. The ending finds mad Doctor Gogol about to strangle Yvonne when Orlac throws a fateful knife and saves his wife from certain death.
Lorre is wonderful as Gogol. With his shaved head, bulging eyes, and fur collar, Gogol is second only to Hans Beckert in 1931’s M as Lorre’s creepiest character. Whether reading poetry to a wax effigy of Yvonne, or dressing as a man with a head transplant. Lorre gives a rich portrayal of a man driven mad by unrequited love. He’s particularly effective in the end scene, laughing hysterically at his misdeeds, believing Yvonne’s statue has come to life (“My Galatea!”), and finally striking out to kill what he loves most. Out of all Lorre’s long career, Gogol is surely his most frightening portrayal.
Colin Clive is sympathetic as Orlac. Clive is best known to horror buffs as Dr. Frankenstein in Universal’s classic film and its sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Frances Drake is also familiar to horror fans for her role in THE INVISIBLE RAY, with Karloff and Lugosi. Ted Healey, former Three Stooges boss, is the comic relief as reporter Reagan. Killer Rollo is familiar heavy Edward Brophy. Other supporting stars are Charlie Chan’s Number One Son, Keye Luke, Sara Hayden, Billy Gilbert, and Ian Wolfe.
Freund’s artistry gives MAD LOVE that expressionistic look and feel. Freund was cinematographer on 1920’s THE GOLEM and the Fritz Lang gem METROPOLIS. He was behind the cameras for 1931’s DRACULA and 1932’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE. Winning an Oscar for 1937’s THE GOOD EARTH, Freund continued to work his magic on pictures like GOLDEN BOY, UNDERCURRENT, and KEY LARGO. Making the switch to television in its infancy, Freund was a pioneer of the 3-camera set-up, filming most episodes of I LOVE LUCY. Gregg Toland was a fine cinematographer in his own right. Besides MAD LOVE, Toland was behind the camera for such classics as DEAD END, CITIZEN KANE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, winning his own Oscar for 1939’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS. MAD LOVE is a true classic of horror cinema, with a chilling performance by Peter Lorre as the deranged Dr. Gogol. Add this one to your Halloween watch list!