“What are his hands when it’s a matter of saving life?”
Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) is an actress in the theater. Her husband of one year is the famous concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive.) Yvonne has an admirer who comes to every performance. He is the famed French surgeon Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) and he is obsessed with the beautiful Yvonne. The last night of the show Gogol visits Yvonne in her dressing room. He is devastated to find out that first she is married and second that Yvonne will not be returning to the theater. She will be moving to England with her husband. Outside the theater Gogol buys a wax statue of Yvonne that was used by the theater as advertising. He has it delivered to his home.
Stephen Orlac is on the train headed for Paris. When the train crashes he suffers a mild head wound, but his hands are crushed. The doctors plan to amputate. In a panic Yvonne has her husband taken to Dr. Gogol’s clinic. She begs him to try to save her husband’s hands. Gogol says there is nothing he can do and prepares to amputate.
Suddenly he has a brainstorm. Earlier he was at the execution of Rollo the knife thrower (Edward Brophy). He decides to take the hands of the criminal and put them on Orlac. He will do anything he can for his Yvonne. The operation is a success; however, Stephen is having difficulty trying to play with his new hands. But he is getting very proficient at throwing knives. Just like the criminal who use to have those hands.
Gogol gets more possessed. Yvonne rejects him. Stephen begins to go a little crazy. Gogol then goes over the edge into madness. He decides to murder and convince the susceptible Stephen that it was Rollo’s hands that did it.
“Mad Love” was released in 1935 and was directed by Karl Freund. The movie was based on the book “The Hands of Orlac”. The first movie called “The Hands of Orlac” was released in 1924. Then another was done as “The Hands of Orlac” 1960. It was redone again as “Hands of a Stranger” in 1962. The 1935 version of the movie concentrates on Dr. Gogol and his obsession with Yvonne rather than on the psychological effects to Orloc.
Lorre claimed that he never made a horror movie. He maintained that movies such as “Mad Love”, “The Beast With Five Fingers” and the Poe-Corman movies were suspense movies.
Some thought the movie was a work of genius, some did not. Whatever you think, it was defiantly freaky. The movie was made after the initiation of the “Hays Act”. Even so, there are little things that managed to make it past the censors. When Yvonne is being tortured in her act at the theater it is obvious by Dr. Gogol’s reaction that he is having sexual fantasies. We also don’t know what Gogol is doing with the wax Yvonne in his home. At one point in the movie Gogol admits he is a virgin. I’m not sure if that applies to wax women or not.