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The brilliant surgeon, Doctor Gogol, is obsessed with Yvonne Orlac, the beautiful star of the Parisian Horror Theatre and wife of renown pianist Stephen Orlac. In fact, he's so entranced with her beauty that he steals a life-size replica of her from the theatre lobby to worship privately in his own study. Although Dr. Gogol's intense devotion frightens Yvonne, she pleads for his help when her husband's hands are mutilated in a gruesome train wreck. An emergency surgery is scheduled and Dr. Gogol grafts the hands of a recently executed murderer onto the ends of the pianist's arms. Although the operation is a success, Stephen Orlac has a terrible feeling about his new hands and his suspicions are confirmed through a series of unsettling incidents.
In the grand tradition of Le Grand Guignol, a theatre specializing in horrific entertainments in Paris in 1908, Mad Love was such a disturbing film for its time that the studio released it with an opening disclaimer that began, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feels that it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning...." The Hays Office, in particular, had voiced their objections to the script prior to production, warning against any scenes depicting the train wreck, its gruesome aftermath, or acts of torture. The censors even urged the filmmakers to refrain from showing Doctor Gogol fondling the wax replica of Yvonne.
Pre-production publicity for Mad Love announced that Claude Rains and Virginia Bruce were set to play the leads but, in the end, the film became a showcase for Peter Lorre who was making his American film debut. His performance received rave notices, inspiring Charlie Chaplin to exclaim, "He is the greatest living actor." Without a doubt, his portrayal must have had an influence on Orson Welles who copied details of Dr. Gogol's physical appearance for his aging tycoon in Citizen Kane. A white cockatoo, not something you see in many movies, also shows up in both films and there are similarities in the gothic sets and lighting which isn't surprising since cinematographer Gregg Toland worked on both Mad Love and Citizen Kane.
Like most great horror films, Mad Love is based on a popular novel, Les Mains d'Orlac by Maurice Renard, which has enjoyed numerous screen adaptations: Orlac Hande, a 1924 silent version starring Werner Kraus and Colin Clive, The Hands of Orlac (1960) with Mel Ferrer, a low-budget 1962 version entitled Hands of a Stranger featuring Sally Kellerman in an early screen appearance, Choice Cuts (1965), the award-winning novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, and Body Parts (1991), starring Jeff Fahey and Brad Dourif.
Producer: John W. Considine Jr.
Director: Karl Freund
Screenplay: Guy Endore, P.J. Wolfson, John Balderston
Cinematography: Chester Lyons, Gregg Toland
Editor: Hugh Wynn
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Peter Lorre (Dr. Gogol), Colin Clive (Stephen Orlac), Frances Drake (Yvonne Orlac), Ted Healy (Reagan), Edward Brophy (Rollo), Sara Haden (Marie).
BW-68m. Closed captioning
by Jeff Stafford