Mad Love (1935) Directed by Karl Freund. Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive (68 minutes) 35mm print from Warner Brothers Classics

Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon (Peter  Lorre in his American film debut) is obsessed with an actress in a Parisian horror theater.  She retires from the stage to marry a concert pianist, played by Clive (the original Dr. Frankenstein).  When the musician’s hands are mangled in a train wreck, she reluctantly seeks Dr. Gogol’s expert medical aid.  Drenched in Gothic atmosphere, courtesy of Citizen Kane’s cinematographer Gregg Toland; when Charles Chaplin saw Mad Love he proclaimed Lorre “the greatest living actor.”  This new 35mm print was introduced as a favorite during the recent TCM Classic Film Festival by Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader.

I’m not a person who is very fond of horror films, because in so many of them women are only victims, doomed to die at the hands of the monster.  I also do not find zombies, werewolves, vampires or other creatures of the dark particularly frightening.  Vanquishing a fantasy creature does not have a lot of relevance for me.  But Mad Love has a particular kind of monster:  The man who won’t take “no” for an answer.  The horror in this film centers around an actress who tries to be nice, tries to be gentle while setting boundaries, but Dr. Gogol won’t listen.  This is the kind of monster that we have good reason to be afraid of every single day.

I thought this scary photo was in William K. Everson’s The Bad Guys, one of the first film books I ever bought, but it isn’t. I must have seen it in Famous Monsters of Filmland, instead.

Mad Love was one of the few films directed by Karl Freund, and his last.  Entranced by cinema at the end of the 19th century (!), he became a projectionist at 15 and a cinematographer at 17.  He worked at UFA, in Germany, during the period when they were making the most creative films in the world, with directors F. W Murnau, Robert Weine, Paul Wegener and Fritz Lang.  He shot Metropolis for Lang, and when he came to the US, he was the cinematographer for All Quiet on the Western Front, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Greta Garbo’s Camille and Key Largo starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  He won an Oscar for Cinematography for The Good Earth.  Among his few feature films as a director is the atmospheric Boris Karloff film The Mummy.  In 1951 he became the director of photography for tv’s I Love Lucy; Lucille Ball knew him from MGM, he shot DuBarry Was a Lady with her.  He devised the three camera system for shooting sitcoms on film, and he made boatloads of money for everyone on the show, including himself; he lived out the end of his life comfortably on the endless residuals.

This was his last film as a director, and he has clearly brought all he learned from the greatest German Expressionistic directors.  It’s a remake of a German film, The Hands of Orlac, based on a novel by Maurice Renard and directed by Robert Weine (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) which starred Conrad Veidt.  It would be remade again in 1960 with Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee as an added character.  The concept of transplanted body parts bearing the imprint of the donor’s past life is a frequently revisited idea in horror/sci fi fiction.  Freund was not sorry that his career as a director was abbreviated.  “Anyone can make a good cake if he has the right ingredients” he said (FIR Luft 105).

Peter Lorre was born László Löwenstein in a remote Hungarian village in the Carpathian mountains.  His family later moved to Vienna where he began acting in plays in Vienna and Berlin. He took the name Lorre, which means “parrot” in German, perhaps because of his skill in mimicry.  Although he never expected to be anything other than a bit player, he learned to milk even a single line, perhaps by sitting down and smoking a cigarette before saying it.  This kind of scene stealing was characteristic of his entire acting career.  He was strange looking, magnetic, and droll, and attracted  the attention and admiration of the most powerful artists in the theater, especially Berthold Brecht.  He was already addicted to morphine, which began as a treatment for appendicitis and other health issues.

Lorre really worked this extraordinary coat (and he really shaved his head). Dolly Tree did the costumes.

 In 1930 Fritz Lang offered him the job as the child murderer in M Peter Lorre’s performance as killer Hans Beckert is central to M’s power. He was successful in Berlin’s avant-garde theater, but, as Lorre said, “it never occurred to me that my puss could be photographed.” Thea Von Harbou wrote the chilling monologue in which Hans Beckert explains the forces that drive him, “Nobody knows what it’s like to be me…” creating reluctant audience sympathy for a human monster. Lang was well known for his sadistic treatment of his actors, and perhaps he drove Lorre to the edge for his intense and haunting performance. The result was that he became an international star.

Lorre fled Germany in 1933 with most of the German film industry, moving to Vienna, Paris and then London.  His first British film was The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version) for Alfred Hitchcock, in which he makes a striking appearance with a deep facial scar and a white streak in his hair.  He was also in the director’s The Secret Agent. Columbia signed him to a contract, and he arrived in Hollywood already speaking English (thanks to Hitchcock).  He had no nostalgia for his old days of poverty and deprivation in Europe, taking a seaside house in Santa Monica, trading his single shabby suit for flashy casual clothes and tending his rose garden.  He was under contract for a year without working, and finally Columbia lent him to MGM for Mad Love.

Horror writer John L. Balderston, who had worked on Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, brought his macabre touch to the script, tailoring the role to Lorre with strong hints of the protagonist of M, “a mixture of saint and devil, fiend and child” (Youngkin 115).  Lorre said of his character, “I believe the low spoken villain…who is absolutely blasé about what he does, who works out a murder like a mathematical problem, for instance, is a much more terrifying fellow than the human fellow who commits a murder in a fit of anger…he is only dangerous to a person if there is a reason for it.  He does not hate mankind.  But, he is willing to ruin anyone to gain his ends. If being dangerous to a person doesn’t pay, he can be perfectly kind” (Youngkin116).  It was his idea to shave his head, to look more intimidating.  The film did not do well at the box office, and barely escaped being banned in the UK.

Although Charlie Chaplin proclaimed Peter Lorre “the greatest living actor” after seeing Mad Love, his performance may be a little over the top by today’s standards.  The New York Times raved, “With any of our conventional maniacs in the role of the deranged surgeon, the photoplay would frequently be dancing on the edge of burlesque.  Mr. Lorre, with his gift for supplementing a remarkable physical appearance with his acute perception of the mechanics of insanity, cuts deeply into the darkness of the morbid brain.  It is an affirmation of his talent that he always holds his audience to a strict and terrible belief in his madness.  He is one of the few actors in the world, for example, who can scream, “I have conquered science, why can’t I conquer love?” and not seem a trifle silly” (Skal 156).

This still is from the Films In Review article on Frances Drake.

Colin Clive’s family had a grand military history, he was a direct descendant of Robert, “Clive of India” who was celebrated as a hero for laying the foundations of the British Raj through the British East India Company, an accomplishment viewed much less positively today.  During Colin Clive’s cavalry training, his horse fell on him, and a knee injury scuttled his military career.  To his family’s dispproval, he joined the “depraved” world of the stage (FIR Mank 258).  Why director James Whale asked him to audition for Journey’s End, which would make his career, is disputed.  The play about life in the trenches of WW I hit a nerve in post-war Britain and was already a huge success starring Laurence Olivier.  Clive, his replacement, struggled with the part, and he drank to steady his nerves, which worked for the performance, but would go on to devastate his life.  When Whale came to Hollywood in 1929 to film his great stage success, Clive followed him to play Stanhope in the filmed version of the play.  Two years later, Whale wanted him to play Victor Frankenstein in the landmark horror film.  “I chose Colin Clive for Frankenstein because he had exactly the right kind of tenacity to go through with anything, together with the kind of romantic quality which makes strong men leave civilization to shoot big game.  There is also a level-headedness about Clive which keeps him in full control of himself in his craziest moments in the picture” (FIR 5/80 p.261).  His high strung character, seemingly teetering on the brink of madness was his signature one, which he would bring to other films in his short career of 18 films. He died of alcohol related illness at only 37, two years after Mad Love.

In a 1935 interview, he discussed the make-up on his hands, meant to make them look surgically grafted on “The finger joints were built up; the hands had to be almost a quarter larger than normal size.  Then, around the wrists, where the surgeon has supposedly grafted them onto their new foundation, ghastly scars were created…my hands were first stained something green; then with something blue, then with something white…the knuckles and palms were built up and coarsened with some kind of wax, over which a new skin  was laid,  The wrinkles in the joints were picked out with innumerable exaggerations traced with ordinary lead pencil…the experience of viewing ones’ own hands in this condition was in itself a shock.  Often, I felt quite sick, and the real hands under the awful disguise ached with some accountable form of irritation.  All day and every day I felt that I would give almost anything to be able to wash away the whole ghoulish mess and forget the rest of the picture” (Skal 156).

Frances Drake was born in New York City and moved to England when she was 15 to stay with an ailing aunt.  In 1932, she formed a dancing act with a partner, and after dancing in several swank night clubs made her stage acting debut in London.  She was scouted, screen tested and made her first film in 1934, as George Raft’s dance partner in Bolero.  She co-starred with many glamorous leading men, including Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Frederic March, James Stewart and Spencer Tracy.  Of Mad Love she said, “Little Peter Lorre was charming and so cute…He had to meet me before he had his head shaved, to show me that he had hair.”  “Mad Love was a bit difficult…Director Karl Freund kept wanting to be the cinematographer at the same time…you never knew who was directing” (FIR 1/87, p. 18).  Like so many beautiful actresses, she acted for a while (21 films in 8 years) and, getting married, retired from the screen.

One of the most horrifying aspects of this film is the appearance of Ted Healy as the unfunny comic relief. He used to perform as Ted Healy and his Stooges, in vaudeville and at MGM, but the Stooges Larry, Curly and Moe dumped him in 1934 for their own series of shorts at Columbia. Healy, a heavy drinker, floundered on for a bit on his own, until 1937 when he died from the injuries sustained in a bar fight.

This is one of the rare times that Peter Lorre received top billing as the lead in a film.  His strange appearance and distinctive voice usually relegated him to supporting roles. It would be a few more years before he found his greatest fame in this country as foil to the hulking Sidney Greenstreet alongside Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.  . At the TCM Classic Film Festival in April, 2019, this film was introduced by Bill Hader, who entered the large Egyptian Theater, surveyed the packed house at 9:00 am on Sunday, and said, “Wow, you are the hard core nerds.”  He spoke about how, like so many of us, he falls asleep to Turner Classic Movies and was jolted awake by the strangeness of this compelling horror film.  We were also lucky enough to see Cora Sue Collins, who played the little girl in the film, she remembers holding Peter Lorre’s hand!

The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin, James Whale:  A New World of Gods and Monsters by James Curtis, Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture by David J. Skal, “Karl Freund” by Herbert G. Luft in February, 1963, Films in Review, “Colin Clive” by Gregory Mank in May, 1980 Films in Review, “Frances Drake” by Gregory Mank in the January 1987 Films in Review, “Peter Lorre” by Herbert G. Luft in the May, 1960 Films in Review,  The music video for “Here With Me” by The Killers was directed by Tim Burton and inspired by Mad Love.  It stars Winona Ryder.   Here is the original trailer for Mad Love:  They don’t make them like this anymore.