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Video Reviews

Reviewed by Jerry Renshaw, February 25, 2000, Screens

Mad Love

D: Karl Freund (1935); with Peter Lorre, Ted Healy, Frances Drake, Colin Clive. Beautiful Yvonne Orlac (Drake) is the leading lady of a Grand Guignol theatrical production; creepy Dr. Gogol (Lorre) is infatuated with her, sending mash notes to her dressing room and falling into a swoon during her onstage torture scenes. The doctor is devastated, however, when he learns of her plans to leave the stage and go on tour with her husband, Stephen Orlac (Clive), a concert pianist. Gogol soon buys Yvonne's wax figure and keeps it in his house, feeding his preoccupation with her as he slips further into madness. Disaster strikes, however, when Orlac's hands are ruined in a train accident. Seeing his chance, Gogol locates Rollo, a knife-throwing murderer who has an upcoming appointment with the guillotine. The murderer's hands are affixed to the pianist's stumps, and soon Orlac discovers, though he can no longer play piano worth a damn, he has a newfound penchant for flinging knives with deadly accuracy. He quarrels with his father over money for his medical bills; when the father turns up dead, Orlac is arrested for his murder. After rigging himself up with metal gloves and a grotesque neck brace, Gogol convinces the rather credulous Orlac that he is Rollo, complete with re-attached cabeza and metallic hands, and that Orlac is responsible for his father's murder. Director Karl Freund's name will be familiar to fans of I Love Lucy -- he became the chief cinematographer for Desilu Studios in the Fifties, pioneering the classic sitcom three-camera setup, after an illustrious career that included shooting Murnau's The Last Laugh and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. During the silent days, Freund was a meticulous, pioneering craftsman, designing his own cameras and lighting setups and breaking new ground as a cinematographer. As director, with Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, The Best Years of Our Lives) running the camera, Freund made Mad Love into one of the most European-flavored Hollywood horror pictures of the Thirties. The shot compositions are dominated by cathedral and proscenium-arch shapes that recall the most inventive Expressionist shadowplay of the time. In her book on Citizen Kane, Pauline Kael claimed Mad Love as a major influence on Welles' masterpiece. Lorre's performance is a perfect descent into obsession and madness, his bulging, heavy-lidded eyes and shaved head making him both sinister and pathetic as the crazed Gogol. Lorre's character is actually far more disturbing than the rather hoary tale of the murderer's hands, especially in the scenes in which the various voices in Gogol's head battle it out with each other. Drake and Clive, on the other hand, turn in some delightfully overheated performances (as well as Three Stooges foil Ted Healy as comic relief). The Thirties were a ripe time for horror movies; the Forties, on the other hand, were rather barren for horror films, except for Val Lewton's atmospheric low-budget creations (there was too much real-life horror going on in the Forties). Mad Love is a nearly forgotten psychological horror classic of the time.

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