Mad Love (1935)

Mad Love (1935)

“I, a poor peasant, have conquered science; why can’t I conquer love?”

A mad surgeon (Peter Lorre) obsessed with an actress (Frances Drake) is distressed to learn that she’s happily married to a renowned concert pianist (Colin Clive). When Clive’s hands are mangled in a train accident, Dr. Gogol (Lorre) secretly replaces them with those of a recently guillotined murderer (Edward Brophy), and proceeds to take advantage of Clive’s increasingly disturbed state of mind.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Colin Clive Films
  • Horror
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Obsessive Love
  • Peter Lorre Films
  • Plastic Surgery

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this “first sound remake of [the] 1924 [German] classic The Hands of Orlac” (not listed in GFTFF) as an “underappreciated horror gem”, one which “gives definition to the term ‘sleeper'”. He calls out Peter Lorre’s performance as “one of his truly great screen portrayals”, and nominates him as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars. He notes that while “of course, Lorre dominates the eerie proceedings”, “Clive and Drake, as one of the strongest, most intelligent women in the horror cinema, are superb” as well:

… and that “thoughtful” casting leads to even the smallest parts being “well written and played”. However, he ultimately argues that the “picture’s success” is primarily attributable to its “eerie visuals”, with the finale particularly “surreal”; and he notes that the entire affair possesses an overall “hard-edged poetic quality”, with a “haunting atmosphere… created by… imaginative use of the camera”. Indeed, one would expect nothing less from a film helmed by noted DP Karl Freund (whose American directorial debut was 1932’s The Mummy), and photographed in part by another noted DP, Gregg Toland.

Peary’s review succinctly sums up the fine qualities of this most enjoyable “Grand Guignol” horror flick, one which afforded Peter Lorre his breakthrough role in American movies, and which remains a gruesomely absorbing tale of obsessive love. Peary is right to call out the performance by wide-eyed Drake (who co-starred the following year in The Invisible Ray); she’s a memorable heroine-in-distress, with more to do and say than Clive (whose character feels oddly underdeveloped, though Clive does a fine job showing his increasingly distraught state of mind). Meanwhile, the intermittent presence of a wisecracking reporter (Ted Healy) feels decidedly out of place, though I’m fond of the humorous character played by May Beatty as Gogol’s tippling housekeeper. But this is really Lorre’s show all the way:

He takes the material and runs with it, managing to present his villain as vaguely sympathetic, despite his nefarious plans to win Drake at any cost (he does save children’s lives through surgery, after all!). Watch for his “disguise” in the second half of the film (see second still below) — kudos to whoever was responsible for its design!

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Lorre as Dr. Gogol

  • Frances Drake as Yvonne
  • Accomplished direction by Freund
  • Atmospheric cinematography (by Gregg Toland and Chester Lyons)
  • Fine Expressionistic sets

Must See?
Yes, as an early horror classic.


  • Genuine Classic


One thought on “Mad Love (1935)

  1. A once-must.

    Though, overall, I certainly think ‘ML’ is one for ffs to see, I’m probably not as bowled over by it as Mr. Peary appears to be. The story is served up in an appropriately chilly manner – evocatively so, in the way it’s been filmed – but the whole thing, more or less, is nutty as a fruitcake.

    On a fundamental level, Lorre’s Doctor Gogol is deeply disturbed – and, of course, since the film is so short (68 min.), we’re given no doorway into illumination of the character: he simply ping-pongs between brilliant surgeon and madman on parade. (He’s particularly creepy when he has a chance to kiss Drake on the mouth.) I happen to love Lorre’s work almost anytime – but I don’t think this is one of his best performances. ~although it’s not his fault. It’s not bad work, by any means – but look at what he has to play!!! I’d say, all things considered – and thanks, in part, to Lorre’s nuance of arrested development – he acquits himself ‘nicely’. (The word is that Lorre agreed to make this film in order to have the opportunity to then be in von Sternberg’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.)

    Considering its slight fascination with s&m and some of the sillier aspects of the story (i.e., a pianist is in a train wreck and survives intact – except for his hands!), one wonders what audiences in 1935 made of all this.

    I have to commend Freund for committing fully to the material and directing masterfully. That said – and although I do like dark films – I admit that ‘Mad Love’ makes me slightly uncomfortable as it reveals its twisted self.

    I agree, though: as the housekeeper – and with her ever-present cockatoo – Beatty makes quite a nice bid in her attempt to steal the picture!

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