Adapted from the story called The Hands of Orlac by Maurice Renard, Mad Love would star Peter Lorre in one of his very best roles as a leading man before eventually being delegated to supporting characters for the remainder of his career. It finds the man playing the part of Dr. Gogol, a doctor full of eccentricities and one who is obsessed with an actress named Yvonne Orlac as played by Frances Drake. Obsessed might not be strong enough though, for what he feels runs deep and it drives him to do despicable things in order to gain her love. The title Mad Love is an apt one, for as the film moves on from act to act, Gogol starts to descend further and further into delusion, slipping into a madness that finally culminates with Gogol laughing hysterically after convincing Stephen, husband of Yvonne, that he is a murderer and has killed his own father. It is to say the least, a scene that is quite disturbing and is made even more so by the fact that the object of his affection stands within the very same room, pretending to be the wax statue of herself that Gogol worshipped in lieu of the real thing. Trapped within the room and with no hope of escape, Yvonne can do nothing but try to keep up the pretence in order that she might get away later on. It is a triumphant moment for Lorre, a scene to cap off a film filled with additional brilliant moments, proving that the man was truly an actor’s actor.
As good as Lorre is in this movie, he did not go at it alone as Drake was also quite excellent playing both the leading lady and the damsel in distress opposite him. It seemed a role she was comfortable in and as such, she was believable as the object of Gogol’s obsession, something she realised about him soon after meeting the man at the theatre. Adding just a touch of tragedy to the film would be Clive, the aforementioned husband who would complete this bizarre love triangle that director Karl Freund would paint. The fact that it was unusual is what made it work so well – it was not the typical Hollywood drama or love affair and Lorre was not the cookie-cutter leading man that audiences were used to seeing, neither dashing nor handsome. If one could ever say that a role was perfectly cast, it would be Lorre as the deranged Dr. Gogol, taking nothing away from those starring across from him.
Freund for his part, who was a well-known cinematographer for most of his career, would direct very few films during his life and yet that background would help in those efforts where he did, The Mummy with Boris Karloff being a prime example. Despite already having Chester A. Lyons and Gregg Toland on the movie to provide the photography necessary, Freund supposedly could not keep himself away from trying to do both jobs and in the end, whoever was ultimately responsible for what ended up in the film did an incredible job. Whether it was seeing Gogol bathed in shadow or the camera focused in upon the hands of Orlac or watching the madman worship his Galatea while he pretended to be Pygmalion, it was not simply the actors that made the film, but that around them which turned out to be just as important. All of it layered the movie in an eeriness that was hard to ignore, a blanket that weighed upon the audience adding to the tension and the horror found within.
Mad Love, a film about mad love more than anything else, is one that grips the viewer from its first scene and it grasps a hold of the viewer until that very last moment. It is a frightening piece of cinema, though not in the classical sense that most horror films tend to be. There are no creatures present, but there is a monster that is but a man and he is one that descends slowly into a madness of his own making, one born of longing and loneliness and a desire unfulfilled. The scariest part of it all is how he let himself get to that point without realising just what was happening. Altogether, it made for a truly memorable and incredible film.
5 out of 5