Mad Love (1935, US, d. Karl Freund)
This one had an odd second life as a political football when Pauline Kael cited it in her anti-auteurist tract “Raising Kane” as evidence of cinematographer Gregg Toland’s influence on Citizen Kane. It didn’t help Kael’s argument that Toland only worked on Mad Love for eight days, and that all photography was reportedly dominated by director Freund, a veteran D.P.; she helped herself less with strained conjecture about non-photographic elements that occur in both films. In the melee, both Kael and Kane-defender Peter Bogdonavich wound up bad-mouthing Mad Love.
Which is a shame, because there are some nifty things here. It winningly moves the now-tired Hands of Orlac plot — Body part transplant from a killer has a murderous life of its own! (Or… does it?) — to the b-story so it can focus on the surgeon (Peter Lorre) and his obsession with the transplant patient’s wife (Frances Drake, who looks a little like Bebe Neuwirth). Drake’s character is a sort of proto-Scream Queen at Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, which adds a level of voyeuristic association to the thing… and association is something the audience is inclined to avoid when your lead is Peter Lorre.
This is Lorre’s first American film, and this is the performance that inspired Chaplin to call him “the greatest living actor.” It’s a blast to watch his Doctor Gogol gradually embrace his obvious insanity. Steve Haberman’s DVD commentary cites Mad Love as one of the factors in the UK “ban” on horror films often blamed for ending the ’30s horror cycle (the film was released there with an “H” certificate, and the end of the cycle seems to have more to do with the nebulous state of US censorship in the early days of the Hays code), and Lorre’s commitment to the character is the most unsettling thing about it.