Peter Lorre and Frances Drake in Mad Love (1935)

MAD LOVE (aka: The Hands of Orlac)

(director: Karl W. Freund; screenwriters: John L. Balderston/Guy Endore/P.J. Wolfson/from the book Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard; cinematographers: Chester A. Lyons/Gregg Toland; editor: Hugh Wynn; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Peter Lorre (Dr. Gogol), Frances Drake (Yvonne Orlac), Colin Clive (Stephen Orlac), Ted Healy (Reagan), Sara Haden (Marie, Yvonne’s Maid), Edward S. Brophy (Rollo), Henry Kolker (Prefect Rosset), May Beatty (Françoise, Gogol’s Housekeeper), Keye Luke (Dr. Wong); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John W. Considine, Jr.; MGM; 1935)
“Peter Lorre’s auspicious first appearance in a Hollywood-made film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Mad Love” was Karl Freund’s (“The Mummy”) last film as a director, but he continued to work as a cinematographer. Screenwriters John L. Balderston, Guy Endore, and P.J. Wolfson adapt it from the book Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard. This was Peter Lorre’s auspicious first appearance in a Hollywood-made film. It’s a crowd-pleasing Grand Guignol classic, with Lorre as the menacing but brilliant and respected Parisian surgeon, Dr. Gogol, who’s obsessed with his love for an actress in a horror play, Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake). Lorre is in great form as the leering undetected lustful psychopath who has a fondness for attending guillotine beheadings and all 47 performances of the horror play where the beautiful Yvonne, the object of his mad love, is tortured on stage. When the play closes and Yvonne tells him she is to retire and live with her English husband Stephen (Colin Clive), a classical pianist and composer, Dr. Gogol purchases the wax statue of her in the lobby and keeps it in his study where he converses with it (somehow hoping he can bring it to life as Pygmalion did Galatea). Yvonne fights off Gogol’s romantic interest, which doesn’t interest her, by just playing along in a friendly manner with his fawning over her–supposedly for the good of the theater company.

Stephen on his way by train from London to meet Yvonne in Paris and go on their first honeymoon after a year married, damages his hands beyond the point of repair in a train crash at Geron. To avoid amputation, Yvonne whisks Stephan to Gogol’s Paris clinic and begs him out of friendship to save her husband’s hands. Gogol has just returned from the beheading of an American murderer, Rollo (Edward S. Brophy), and comes up with the idea of grafting the circus knife thrower’s hands onto Stephen. The operation is medically successful but Stephan can’t play the piano like he used to and has a sudden urgency when mad to pick up knives and throw them. The hands, we are told, have a life of their own.

Since the accident cut Stephen’s career short and the love couple is beginning to go into debt, Yvonne urges him to see his nasty rich jeweler step-father, whom he hates, and borrow some money. But Stephen is turned down and after threatening his sneering step-father, who taunts him that he should have become a tradesman, he flings a knife at him, in front the clerk. The next day the step-father is found knifed to death. This leads Gogol to disguise himself as the guillotined Rollo and after meeting with the nervous pianist convinces him that he possibly could have committed the murder. The next day Stephen is arrested and Yvonne visits Gogol to illicit help, and all hell breaks loose when she finds him gleefully talking to her replica and confessing that he was the murderer.

The film exploits the usual chilling gothic motifs–madness, murder, dismemberment, and forced love, and with a special sense of comic relief, it cuts through its absurd storyline with a witty droll humor as the actors play their parts in mock seriousness and with a special kind of abandonment that makes this a very entertaining film–but even the comical moments can’t keep out the chilling effects.