Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 269: Mad Love (1935) - Rank 4/5


Peter Lorre's first starring role, in Fritz Lang's astounding "M," no doubt left German filmgoers thinking, "Damn, that man's creepy." As Lorre's first American release film, the actor clearly wanted to make the same impression on an audience across the ocean. Certainly, his role as the genius surgeon, Dr. Gogol, could have easily been named Dr. Guignol for all of Lorre's bug-eyed brooding and nefarious scheming. The end result was Lorre became a permanent icon in horror just as Vincent Price did after his role in "House of Wax." While I can't speak for Lorre, I don't regard such typecasting with negativity. After all, if you're good at what you do, then why not exploit it.

Dr. Gogol is a classic, sympathetic villain. As is typically the case with such rogues, he's enraptured by the beauty of a stage actress, Yvonne. But the romance is not meant to be, for all his pining in the world cannot ruin her love for her husband, pianist Stephen Orlac. Ah, but when Dame Fate throws Orlac into a train accident, leaving his hands crushed, Yvonne has no other choice but to turn to her long-time admirer and brilliant surgeon, Dr. Gogol. Gogol gives Orlac hands that work, but they are the hands of a knife-throwing murderer, and when Orlac realizes this and begins to fear that those hands are developing a mind of their own, Gogol exploits this irrational fear in the hopes of driving Orlac mad and bringing him closer to Yvonne.

The "appendage gone awry" has been a plot contrivance for decades, but this might be the origin of the idea. Whether it is or not, it is one of the few times where it advances the plot rather than serving as the gimmick. As for Lorre, he sinks into the role of the tormented and scheming surgeon with glee, making "Mad Love" a refreshingly entertaining bit of classic horror.

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