Doctor Gogol (Peter Lorre) is a famous surgeon who falls in love with and becomes obsessed with a stage actress named Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), buying a seat to see her perform every single night.
But when he discovers that she’s already married to a concert pianist named Stephen (Colin Clive), he’s horrified at the fact that he can’t have her. So naturally, he buys a wax figure of her that was used in promotion of the show he saw her in, which is now ending. He keeps it in his house, buys new clothes for it and plays music to it.
Soon, Stephen’s hands are crushed in a train accident and not knowing who else to go to, Yvonne turns to Gogol for help. Gogol agrees, coming up with a plan to graft new hands onto Stephen’s arms, which he carries out successfully.
What nobody except Gogol realizes, however, is that the hands he grafted onto Stephen’s arms are the hands of a recently executed murderer… and those hands may not be done killing yet.
Karl Freund, most well known for his work as a cinematographer, directs this 1935 horror flick known as Mad Love. Clocking in at just a little over an hour, the film is based on Maurice Renard’s novel “Les Mains d’Orlac,” which was translated and adapted into “The Hands of Orlac” by Florence Crewe-Jones, and again adapted for the screen by a team of contributing writers.
I’m a huge fan of Peter Lorre. His character here is such a perfect creep – obviously obsessive from the very beginning, with the eerie mood that he gives off taken to a whole new level by Lorre’s performance.
At the same time, Lorre’s performance pushes the audience to ask themselves whether or not Doctor Gogol is truly sinister in the beginning of the film. Yes, he’s obsessed with Yvonne, but he is willing to use his skills to help her husband, which seems very kind of him (until we discover that he’s potentially turning Stephen into a homicidal man). I’d even go so far as to say that Lorre builds a bit of sympathy for his character in the very beginning of the film, when he gets rejected by Yvonne. Doctor Gogol’s mania increases as the film progresses, and so does the tension of Lorre’s performance, so that sympathy eventually disappears. He’s a phenomenal actor.
Frances Drake and Colin Clive give also very good performances. Drake’s performance is very emotional, while Clive teeter-totters between devastated by his accident and eerily calm. And the supports here are great as well, such as Doctor Gogol’s high-strung, disgruntled and drunk housekeeper Francoise, who is perfectly portrayed by May Beatty. Still, none of these come close to stealing the show from Lorre, who is the best of the bunch.
The film as a whole starts off a bit slowly but becomes quite thrilling as it moves along, particularly picking up pace after the operation is complete. The thrills here never come one after the other in quick succession – they move along slowly and progress to slightly higher levels of shock each time. The final quarter of the film in particular becomes very suspenseful. Doctor Gogol brings the crazy up about fifty notches, and Lorre still remains so believable in his insane role that this becomes the best part of the film. It could have easily been overdone, but Lorre does a great job with the material. The performances are definitely more successful at pulling a reaction out of the audience than the shocks that are thrown into the plot, though some of the action does pack a punch.
Mad Love is a great thriller that really picks up steam in the end, though it is interesting throughout its entire short run. With a perfect quirkily suspenseful premise and fantastic performances all around, this one’s well worth a watch.
The score: 4/5