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  Mad Love Hard Graft
Year: 1935
Director: Karl Freund
Stars: Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy, Sara Haden, Edward Brophy, Henry Kolker, Keye Luke, May Beatty, Billy Gilbert
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Brilliant surgeon Dr Gogol (Peter Lorre) has one weakness, and that's his love for theatre star Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) which verges on obsession. Every night of her performances he can be seen alone in the same box, partially hidden by a curtain so that he can believe she is acting for him alone, staring with wide-eyed intent at the object of his desire. Tonight he plucks up enough courage to go backstage to meet Yvonne, where he tries to tell her of his feelings for her, but she is sadly repulsed by him, and besides, she is happily married to concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). She rushes from the room, pausing only to hear from one of the staff that a party is underway, but she's not going to get away from Gogol that easily...

Mad Love was the first sound adaptation of Maurice Renard's Gothic horror novel The Hands of Orlac, but it differs slightly from other versions of the tale by having as the main centre of attention the surgeon. The reason for this was the appearance of Lorre in his first Hollywood role, and it's he who secured the spotlight with a fascinating interpretation of romantic love turned into sick fixation. A French novel, it was adapted by Guy Endore, P.J. Wolfson and John L. Balderston (who also adapted James Whale's Frankenstein films, among other chiller favourites), and is now rather forgotten when compared to the stature of other classic horrors of the nineteen-thirties.

It shouldn't be, though, and a lot of that is down to Lorre. He doesn't start out as a raving lunatic, but gradually shows his cards although we can tell from his penetrating stare that all is not well in his head. But there's the plot to be getting on with, and Stephen is on a train that just happens to be carrying an American murderer in France, Rollo (a cheery Edward Brophy), who is a champion knife thrower turned killer headed for the guillotine. Unfortunately for Stephen, the train crashes and he is injured - tragically in the hands, which he is told will have to be amputated.

Yvonne is understandably horrified at this proposition and turns to the only person she knows can help: that's right, Dr Gogol, and in his lovestruck state he is only too happy to assist. But it's the way he helps that is problematic, because once Stephen has been through the surgery and money-draining therapy afterwards, he feels, I dunno, as if his hands don't belong to him, and there's a good reason for that when we see his newfound knife throwing skills have taken precedent over whatever piano playing talent he once had. Could it be that Gogol has done the unthinkable?

Up to a point, yes. The weird, dreamlike, slightly hysterical atmosphere effortlessly transforms into nightmare, offering a vivid telling of a well worn story, with Lorre at the heart of it all. Bizarre images and scenes abound, such as the headless ticket girl at the theatre (she's in costume), or the bit where Gogol and his medical associates stand over a sleeping little girl who will soon undergo surgery, only for him to wake her crying by speaking too loudly on the telephone. Yet the film's crowning image is of the apparently resurrected Rollo confronting Stephen, showing off his metal hands and neck brace that now holds his head on. Add to that a twist on the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea featuring a waxwork of Yvonne, and Gogol goes off the rails spectacularly. One of horror's most pathetic villains, Gogol does elicit pity despite himself, and it's all down to the incredible lead performance which triumphs over the production's other uncertainties. Music by Dmitri Tiomkin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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