Thursday, November 12, 2015
Mad Watch: Mad Love (1935)
We all grew up liking Peter Lorre thanks to the many imitations Mel Blanc performed of his voice in a sea of WB cartoons, and if that worked for you, I can't really recommend enough catching him in roles from his younger days, such as this film - Mad Love (1935) - or in something like The Maltese Falcon.
I'd recorded Mad Love during TCM's October horror movie sprint, but, a bit like The Black Cat, its a tough one to pin down exactly as a horror film, but it's a label that works better than, say "rom-com" in this instance. Not only does the film partake in acts of horror and madness, it actually begins within a theater clearly meant to be the original Grand Guignol (a topic worth reading up on if you've got a minute).
Not only does the film star Lorre, we also get Colin Clive, an actor I've enjoyed in Frankenstein films but who pops up all too infrequently in other roles.
Dr. Gogol, a pioneering surgeon, has risen from humble roots and mastered surgery, but due to his station and the fact he's got Uncle Fester's barber and posture and Peter Lorre's mug means he's not exactly shoving away the ladies. He attends the strange theater each night to watch terrible and gory plays to watch the beautiful actress, Yvonne, from his lonely box seat. And as the final show approaches, he finally reaches out to meet her, learning she is married to composer and pianist Stephen Orlac (Clive).
A killer has been captured, one who murdered by throwing blades with terrific skill, and happens to be returning to Paris on the same train with Orlac, who is concluding his tour. A terrible accident occurs upon the train and Orlac's hands are mangled. Yvonne, trading on Gogol's sympathies, asks him to work his medical wonders, and here is where we make a crucial mistake for all involved as Gogol gets the bright idea to grab the executed killer's hands and put them on Clive's body.
If you've seen horror movies since Mad Love, you know these things rarely end well.
I took a swipe at The Mummy for having less than terrific camerawork, but I've reconsidered that stance. I actually re-watched bits of The Mummy after learning the director was the cinematographer of Dracula and other movies that set the standard for the look of American horror pictures to this day. It had less than stellar sets in many cases, but the actual camera management is pretty good, even commendable. I mention this, because that cinematographer and director, Karl Freund, did fantastic work here in both roles (and he's the guy behind the camera for epic pictures like Metropolis).
The knife-tossing killer from the beginning of the film is played by actor Edward Brophy, who appears in two Thin Man films as a good-natured but shady guy - the sort of person Nick is always running into from his police days. And if he sounds really familiar, he's also the voice of Timothy the mouse in Dumbo.
This is the movie where Lorre appears in a get-up that looks pure Batman villain, and I can't believe it hasn't been swiped.
In short, I really dug this movie. It's joyfully macabre, all of the characters are kind of terrible and border on insane, and it's still got the overzealous newspaperman in the middle trying to figure it all out because, hey, it's the mid-30's and that what happened in movies then.
Clearly a point of influence for movies that came after it, it's actually a remake of a movie I haven't seen called The Hands of Orlac. Which, I guess, I'll need to catch some time.