Legendary pioneer cinematographer Gregg Toland shot the much-lauded Citizen Kane… and Mad Love. A gorgeous slice of sick-in-the-head cinema, Mad Love is woefully underrated and under seen. I'll bet most people, even fans of horror, haven't even heard of it. It's definitely not on radar-par with other 30s shockers like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, et al… but it's right up there with them in terms of quality, content, and sheer spookiness.
Mad Love marks the American debut of actor Peter Lorre, and stands as the final film of director Karl Freund — somewhere in between is an amazing cast consisting of Colin Clive (Frankenstein), Francis Drake (Les misérables), and Keye Luke (Charlie Chan franchise).
The fabulously freaky and operatic story follows the unbridled, unrequited love Dr. Gogol (Lorre) has for beautiful Théâtre des Horreurs actress, Yvonne (Drake). When she marries another — gifted pianist Stephen Orlac (Clive) — and goes away, Orlac goes into a deep and profound depression. Consoling himself with the closest thing he can get to his object of desire, he pays top dollar for a wax figure of her. (This movie is full of creepy imagery and entendre; some of the surgical accoutrement make David Cronenberg look like Steven Spielberg!)
Obsessed, Gogol throws himself into his work as a surgeon by day, while he spends his evenings with the effigy. He speaks to it and tends to it in hopes of drawing a spirit forth, much like a psychotic Pygmalion.
What luck, then, when Yvonne is thrown headlong into his life, begging Dr. Gogol for help after Stephen's piano-playing hands are crushed in a terrible accident! Will Gogol do the honorable, kind and noble thing? Sort of…
Lorre is simply sublime as Dr. Gogol. Prior to this, he'd be seen in M and afterward he'd play probably his most famous role — as Cario in The Maltese Falcon (not to mention many, many other now-classics). While I don't think he had a whole lot of range (mainly due to his physicality), he certainly made the most of what he did have — as Dr. Gogol he is wholly believable and chillingly commanding. No wonder his career took off so well in the U.S. and he never once had to look back.
Sure, there are a few problems with the pacing and some kooky comic-relief (the usual 1930s film era hiccups), but the sets, cinematography, music, costumes, and everything else is top-notch. Feeling very German Expressionistic / artistic, but with good old Gothic drama / accessibility, I am simply stunned Mad Love isn't better-known that it is. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out!
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