Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stubs - Mad Love

Mad Love (1935) Starring: Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy. Directed by Karl Freund. Screenplay by P. J. Wolfson, John L. Balderston. Based on the novel Les Mains d'Orlac by Maurice Renard (Paris, 1920). Produced by John W. Considine Jr. Run time: 68 minutes. US. Black and White. Horror

You hear about films from all different sources. In the case of Mad Love, we were trying to find a film that we heard about at Comic Con of all places at a panel hosted by the Warner Archives, a division of Warner Bros. dedicated to showcasing older and usually obscure films and television shows. What we remembered was the film starred Peter Lorre and had something to do with the hand of a pianist being cut off. (I've later found out they were talking about The Beast With Five Fingers (1946)). When we came across this film (with the elements of Peter Lorre, severed hands and pianist), we thought we had found the one they were hyping. 

Mad Love marked Peter Lorre’s American film debut and Karl Freund’s last directorial effort. Lorre had come to the U.S. after leaving Germany when the Nazis came to power. He had made an international sensation starring in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). The film would typecast Lorre as a villain. After moving to Paris and London, where he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Lorre would come to Hollywood under contract to Columbia Pictures. But that studio would have trouble finding the right film for him and lent him out to MGM in an effort to recoup some of their investment.

Freund, who had also come from Germany, had been a sought after cinematographer in Hollywood. He was given an opportunity to direct The Mummy (1931) and directed six more films at Universal, before moving to MGM. There he was teamed with Lorre on what would turn out to be his last directing assignment.

Writer Guy Endore worked with Freund on early drafts of a script based on a recent translation of Maurice Renard’s novel Les Mains d'Orlac (The Hands of Orlac). The book had already been made into a movie about a decade before: Orlac Hnde (1924), an Austrian film directed by Robert Weine and starring Conrad Veidt and Alexandra Sorina.

Producer John W. Considine Jr. assigned P.J. Wolfson and John L. Balderston to do rewrites on Endore’s script. Balderston seems to be a good choice for horror, having worked on the scripts for Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Balderston’s rewrites began on April 24, 1935 and were still in progress when the film went into production on May 6th. Filming would be completed on June 8th and the film would be released in the U.S. on July 12th.

In the film, Doctor Gogol (Peter Lorre) is obsessed with Yvonne Orlac (Francis Drake) the actress starring in at the 'Théâtre des Horreurs' in Paris, France. Gogol goes every night, sitting in the same booth. After the 47th and final show, Gogol goes back stage to meet his object of fascination.

Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) goes backstage to meet Yvonne Orlac (Francis Drake), but finds out she's already married.

He is very disappointed that the show is closing, but even more so when he finds out that Orlac is married to Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), a rising pianist and composer.

Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) admires the wax figure of Yvonnw Orlac in the lobby of the theater.

With the show closing down, a wax figure of Yvonne is about to be sent to be melted down, when Gogol intercepts it and pays three times what it’s worth to have it delivered to his house the next day. Gogol goes home to his clinic where he regularly performs surgeries, with the assistance of Dr. Wong (Keye Luke), that save children’s lives.

Dr. Wong (Keye Luke) prepares for surgery with Dr. Gogol.

Meanwhile, Stephen is on a train heading back to Paris. En route, the train stops to pick up a new passenger, Rollo (Edward Brophy), an American circus knife thrower and convicted murderer. Rollo has an appointment the next day with the guillotine.

Enter American reporter Reagan (Ted Healy), who has been sent to cover the execution of Rollo for his paper. Prefect Rosset (Henry Kolker) is in charge of the execution and cooperates with Reagan. Rosset makes a point of calling Gogol letting him know about the execution, since Gogol never misses one.

Rosset and Reagan go down to the train station to wait and there they run into Yvonne. News comes that there has been a wreck and Reagan and Yvonne take a cab to the site. It is Yvonne going through the wreckage who finds Stephen’s body. Dr. Marbeau (Charles Trowbridge), the first doctor who examines Stephen, tells Yvonne that her husband will live, but that his hands will have to be amputated. Yvonne pleads with the doctor to let her take her husband to Gogol. The doctor is too busy to argue and lets her take her husband to Paris.

Back in Paris, Gogol is there with Reagan to watch Rollo get executed. When Gogol returns to his home, he sees the ambulance leaving and is told that Yvonne came looking for a favor. Gogol immediately agrees to help, but upon examination also determines that Stephen’s hands will have to be amputated. Yvonne is distraught at the news, telling Gogol that she had hoped Gogol could help her.

Rollo (Edward Brophy) is being led to the guillotine.

While preparing for surgery, Gogol gets the idea to use Rollo’s hands and calls Rosset who is already willing to cooperate with Gogol’s experiments.

Unaware of the experiment performed on him, Stephen is told that he will eventually get the feeling back in his hands, but it will take long and expensive treatments for him to be able to use them like he had. The expense practically bankrupts the young couple and try as he might, Stephen can’t seem to recover his old form. He is about to give up, but Yvonne encourages him to keep practicing. When a bill collector comes to get payment for Stephen’s piano, Stephen becomes enraged and hurls his penknife at the man.

Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive) realizes that something is wrong with his hands.

Needing money, Yvonne suggests that Stephen go see his step-father Henry Orlac (Ian Wolfe), a jeweler, but his father refuses to give Stephen money and suggests that Yvonne should go back to acting and do other things to make ends meet. Upset by his father’s insinuation, Stephen, with an employee of his father as a witness, throws a knife at his father, barely missing him.

Gogol, who has set up the wax figure of Yvonne in his front parlor, goes to Yvonne and asks for her love, but she refuses. Stephen goes to Gogol's home and tries to find out about his hands, and why they throw knives. Gogol suggests that Stephen's problem originates from a childhood trauma.

Stephen tries to get answers from Dr. Gogol, but nothing is satisfactory.

Not satisfied with that answer and concerned that his hands seem to act on their own, Stephen goes to see Dr. Marbeau. Marbeau concludes that the hands are not Stephens, since they had been crushed beyond repair.

Soon after his visit, newspapers report that Stephen’s stepfather has been found murdered. Stephen is called to a meeting with a mysterious figure, who reveals himself to be Rollo, claiming Gogol had reattached his head, but had taken his hands and given them to Stephen. Rollo, who is really Gogol in disguise, convinces Stephen that he had murdered his father.

Gogol, disguised as Rollo, convinces Stephen that he's murdered his own father. 

Stephen is arrested and the police are baffled that his fingerprints match those of Rollo’s.

Meanwhile, panic stricken, Yvonne decides to investigate Gogol for herself. Françoise (May Beatty), Gogol's drunken housekeeper, thinks the wax statue has come to life and runs from the house into the arms of two policeman who, thinking she’s crazy, take her away. In Gogol’s parlor, Yvonne sees her statue and takes it place when Gogol returns home in his Rollo disguise.

Gogol removes his Rollo disguise.

He’s so pleased with himself that he pleads his love to Yvonne and sits down to play the organ for her, like he does every night. With his back turned, Yvonne is attacked by Gogol’s pet bird. Seeing her bleed, Gogol thinks his love has brought the wax figure to life. But she refuses him again. Voices in his head convince him to kill her by strangling her with her own hair.

Gogol plays the organ for Yvonne, but thinks she's the wax figure replica.

Yvonne is saved when Reagan, Stephen and the police arrive at Gogol’s house. The door to his parlor is locked and they are only able to open the observation window. But that’s enough for Stephen, who throws a letter opener he swiped from the prefect’s desk at Gogol, hitting him in the back and killing him.

No film made in Hollywood at this time could escape the Hays Office. MGM was warned during pre-production from making a film that was "too brutal or too shocking." They were discouraged from showing the train wreck or the aftermath with dead and dying bodies.

They also wanted them to tone down the creep factor with Gogol’s infatuation with the wax Yvonne by not showing him fondling it or spraying it with perfume. Nevertheless, Mad Love had trouble in other countries. Either banned outright or only allowed to show in a censored form, eliminating one or more scenes of torture, guillotining or strangulation.

Mad Love wouldn’t be the last film to be made, based on Renard’s novel. Filmmakers would return to the book for The Hands of Orlac (1964) a French-British film starring Mel Ferrer and directed by Edmond T. Greville. Before that, Hands of a Strangler (1962), was made, loosely based on the novel. Written and directed by Newt Arnold, the film starred Paul Luthaker and Joan Harvey.

Peter Lorre makes a strong impression in his American film debut. He would go on to appear in a variety of films, including supporting roles in two of my favorite films, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942). While he is associated with Humphrey Bogart, Lorre made nine films with Sydney Greenstreet. A versatile actor, Lorre would appear in comedies: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), war films: Passage to Marseille (1944) and horror: the above mentioned The Beast with Five Fingers.

Peter Lorre getting his head shaved for his role as Dr. Gogol.

After his Warner Bros. contract expired, Lorre’s career in Hollywood took a downturn. In 1950, he returned to Germany, where he co-wrote, directed and starred in Der Verlorene (The Lost One, 1951), a film noir.

He would return to the U.S. in 1952 and played Le Chiffre in the television adaptation of Casino Royale (1954) opposite Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond. He also would star with Kirk Douglas and Jams Mason in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954). In his later years Lorre would work on television in guest roles and make low budget films with Roger Corman. He would die of a stroke in 1964.

Frances Drake, the actress who played Gogol’s object of fascination, had a short Hollywood career. An American, she lived in Canada and got her start in the U.K. as a nightclub dancer. She appeared in a few films there under her birth name Frances Dean, including Meet My Sister (1933) and The Jewel (1933) before coming to the U.S. under contract to Paramount.

She appeared opposite George Raft in a couple of films, Bolero (1934) and The Trumpet Blows (1934), and followed that with Ladies Should Listen (1934) opposite Cary Grant. During her career she would never be a top-billed actress, but would act in a variety of genres, including more horror: The Invisible Ray (1936); comedy/mystery: The Preview Murder Mystery (1936) and There’s Always a Woman (1938); and romantic comedy: It’s a Wonderful World (1939).

Drake married the Hon. Cecil Howard, second son of Henry Howard, 19th Earl of Suffolk in 1939 and shortly thereafter retired from films.

While Peter Lorre received a lot of critical attention for his performance, the film was not well received. Made on a budget of $408,000, the film only made $364,000 at the box office worldwide. Financially not an auspicious start for Lorre's Hollywood career.

The premise of Mad Love must have seemed like science fiction and probably was back in 1935; hand transplantation is now a real thing. The first transplant, which was rejected, occurred in Ecuador in 1964, but more recent surgeries have been finding long term success. I haven’t read anything about the hands retaining the muscle memory of their previous owner.

I find the story to have a very interesting twist. Rather than letting the killer’s hands continue to kill indiscriminately, as one might expect, the story has Stephen use his new found talent to save his Yvonne, when Gogol tries to strangle her.

While not a great film, Mad Love is nevertheless interesting and entertaining. It is definitely worth watching especially if you’re in the mood for offbeat horror.

Be sure to check out our other Horror film reviews here.

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