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Sunday, December 27, 2009

MAD LOVE (1935)

Until the day he died, M-G-M’s legendary head-of-production Irving Thalberg never gave up his search for the next Lon Chaney. The horror racket was saving his old studio, Universal, from bankruptcy, but his stabs at the form since Chaney’s death in 1930, never clicked. This version of THE HANDS OF ORLAC (the one about the concert pianist whose wrecked hands are swapped for the malicious hands of a freshly executed murderer) is probably as close as he got to his goal. Peter Lorre, in a creepy Stateside debut, is the maniacal doctor who operates to win the favors of the pianist’s loyal wife, an actress at Le Grand Guignol he’s obsessed with. Frances Drake is exceptional as the actress/wife who’s repulsed by the mad doctor, and Colin Clive, who reprised his famous Dr. Frankenstein in THE BRIDE OF . . . this same year, is artistic & tormented as the pianist/husband. While Karl Freund’s remarkable career as D.P. took him from CALIGARI to THE LUCY SHOW, he also had a nice little run as helmer (this was his final directing credit) and another legend, Gregg Toland, does the expressionistic lensing. In fact, except for some stale comic relief via Ted Healy, the film surpasses many better known horror pics.

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