Peter Lorre - Dr. Gogol
Frances Drake - Yvonne Orlac
Colin Clive - Stephen Orlac
Ted Healy - Reagan
Edward Brophy - Rollo
Sara Haden - Marie
Karl Freund - Director
John Considine Jr. - Producer
Guy Endore - Screenwriter
John L. Balderston - Screenwriter
Gregg Toland - Cinematographer
Dimitri Tiomkin - Score
This is by far the best of the many versions and variants of Maurice Renard's novel The Hands of Orlac, first filmed under its original title in 1924, starring Conrad Veidt. Although director Karl Freund, a master behind the camera, is no more at ease directing than he was with The Mummy (1932). The film, however, boasts an astounding performance from Peter Lorre in his first American role as the macabre Dr. Gogol, so madly infatuated with the wife (Frances Drake) of celebrated concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), that when the latter's hands are mutilated in a train wreck, he conceives of a diabolical plan to graft the hands of a knife-thrower guillotined for murder (Edward Brophy) onto Orlac.
That there is something twisted behind the shaven head and dead face is indicated by an opening sequence in which, enraptured, Lorre watches a Grand Guignol stage performance in which Drake plays a faithless wife put to the torture, and later purchases a full-size waxwork image of her that had been displayed in the theater to be worshipped, serenaded on the organ, and read poetry to in the privacy of his own weird home.
The sense here of a mind fascinated by sadism yet capable of tenderness is accentuated by the paradoxical contrast between motives in the sequence where Lorre performs the grafting operation on Clive: on the one hand, Lorre's fiendish purpose, on the other the professional skill and concern he displays.
But increasingly deranged by his mad love, Lorre proceeds to what must be one of the most macabre impersonations in all cinema when, in the hope of driving Clive (already unhinged by the knife-throwing propensity of his hands) completely mad, he appears muffled up to the eyes (even they are behind dark glasses) and then does a terrifying striptease to reveal the metal gauntlets (replacing his amputated hands) and steel neck-brace (holding on his guillotined head) that identify him as the executed murderer.
If the ending is by contrast both conventional and perfunctory (about to strangle Drake, Lorre is nailed by Clive's new knife-throwing skills), it is just one of the several flaws--along with the uncertainties in pacing and clumsy comic relief from Healy's reporter--that demonstrate that Freund did not really have the instincts of a director. Mad Love is a remarkable film all the same.
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
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A History of Horror
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