(1935) director Karl Freund
Adapted from Maurice Renard’s story “The Hands of Orlac,” Karl Freund’s 1935 film, Mad Love, was star Peter Lorre’s first American film. Freund, a noted cinematographer, manages a lot of gloom and atmosphere but seems less assured as director, I am noting, especially having just watched this film and his 1932 directorial debut, The Mummy. Still, Mad Love has a lot going for it.
The film comes post-the Hollywood Code implementation but is still quite a lurid tale. It opens with Lorre haunting a Grand Guignol style of theater, featuring a lovely beauty tortured and killed (in a play) for the audience. This particularly titilates Lorre’s Dr. Gogol, who has a “mad love” for the star of the show. When he finds out she is about to be wed, he is crushed, and buys a wax statue of her to take home with him.
Her husband is a talented and up and coming pianist who has his hands crushed in a tragic train crash. The woman appeals to Drl. Gogol to do something to save her husband’s hands, and the doctor winds up giving him the hands of a knife-throwing killer who is put to death before his eyes. You see, Gogol likes to visit executions.
The whole thing gets even more bizarre as the husband struggles with his new hands, which like to throw knives more than play the piano and Dr. Gogol tries to set him up as a fall guy for his own father’s murder. The pianist is played by Colin Clive, most famous for playing the overwrought Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein (1931). Part of Gogol’s plan is to dress himself in this freakish costume to pretend to be the resurrected murderer back from the dead. He has robotic metal hands and a metal neck brace that gives him a queer sneer (the brace is to keep his head on post-guillotine.)
Aspects of the film’s manic darkness reminded me a bit of Doctor X (1931), which was actually released in a collection of DVDs that included Mad Love as well. Doctor X turned out to be a real joy, and while Mad Love isn’t quite as fun as it, it’s a strange, Freudian thriller in its own right.