johnlink ranks MAD LOVE (1935)

A large portion of the films I have ranked on these pages from the beginning of the sound era through the 50s are Bogart movies. I wish this wasn’t the case, but his are the movies from that era that I tend to seek out. MAD LOVE is not a Bogart film, but it features Bogie’s typical co-star Peter Lorre in the lead villainous role. What I’m trying to say is this: A large majority of the films from the 30s through the 50s on these pages have some sort of Six Degrees of Humphrey Bogart connection going on. I suppose that is something I should remedy. But, anyway, here we go with MAD LOVE…

I watched MAD LOVE (1935) on 6.17.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is an early American horror film from directed by the Cinematographer of METROPOLIS, Karl Freund. A great amount of Expressionism stylization can be found in MAD LOVE, with jutting angles and obscene shadows permeating each frame. However, this is certainly an Americanized film and, as such, sneaks more into an early noir style of mise-en-scene.

Peter Lorre is Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon who also happens to have an unhealthy crush on actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), who is married to brilliant concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). Though spelled differently, these Orlacs have the same pronounciation as the 1922 NOSFERATU vampire Count Orlok. This can’t be good for the Orlacs.

Gogol expresses his unflinching love for Yvonne, who rejects him. Meanwhile, Stephen is on a train to go see his lovely wife. The train crashes. Stephen is going to lose his hands, only a knife-throwing murderer has just had an unfortunate date with the guillotine. Yvonne begs Gogol to help, and he replaces Stephen’s hands with the murderers.

And then things start to get weird.

Gogol lies about the hands, saying they are Stephen’s own. Stephen can no longer play the piano, but he is suddenly really got at throwing knives with hands which seem to just want to kill people. That summarizes the first half of the film, and is sufficient to begin talking about the movie on a thematic level.

And the themes here are trying to get across, even if they are not particularly sophisticated. Yvonne will do anything for her man. Selling her jewelry and going broke at a chance to make him a concert pianist again. But her unwillingness to see Stephen as anything but a musician, practically forcing Gogol into the operation after he says there is no way to save the hands, is the reason they got into the predicament in the first place.

Gogol is actually a good man driven mad by love. He operates on children at no cost to mothers, helping because he is the only one he can. His excitment gets the better of him more often than not, and he comes across as menacing and creepy even when he does not want to. He is a social outcast who happens to be a brilliant surgeon. He knows his deficincies, but is powerless to combat theme. There is much tragedy in his character, and Lorre plays it brilliantly.

The idea that a man would have his hands replaced with a killer’s and suddenly become murderous is an affront to science, but of course horror films have never been too concerned with science anyway. But the implications of a man being unable to control these impulses is never fully explored since Stephen is bailed out by the writing at the end. I’m sure the Hays code of the time wouldn’t allow this film to go so dark as to implicate the wrong man in the end. But after a particularly haunting film spends an hour trying to earn its morbidity the ending here feels surpringly tame.

The craft in making this film is at a higher level than the entertainment it produces, which is unusual for a horror film. But the cinematography is solid, the acting is good, and the aesthetic is appropriate. The weakness is a mundane script, though it would be hard for me to gauge how standard (or for that matter how revolutionary) such a script might be for 1935. That said, it has never been the goal of this blog to consider films on a sliding scale based on when they were made. While I can respect a movie for what it contributed to the history of film (not that MAD LOVE necessarily falls into that category), my purpose here has always been to consider how it plays out for me today, at this particular viewing.

Having said all that, MAD LOVE still works. There are better films out there, but fthere will always be room for an atmospheric flick with a really good performance from Peter Lorre.



I give a bonus point for cinematography here, because I am a sucker for mood lighting and effective shadowing.



~ by johnlink00 on June 18, 2012.

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