Mad Love is a fascinatingly melodramatic film. Guillotinings; mad knife-throwing circus performers; Colin Clive in another of his perpetually overwrought performances believing his hands are possessed and tossing about knives; a thoroughly lunatic Peter Lorre worshipping a wax statue of Frances Drake. The opening scene alone hits in on a wonderfully perverse note, featuring Peter Lorre talking to (and at the end of the scene buying) a wax statue of Frances Drake then sitting through a performance of the play, taking an undeniable erotic fascination in the scenes where she is stretched on a rack and burned with hot coals. The climax involves a wonderful series of confusions where Frances Drake is forced to pose as the wax statue and a demented twist where she inadvertently moves, neatly tying into the now mad Gogols repeated likening of himself to Pygmalion and the statue to Galatea and thinking he has brought her to life. There is a considerable sense of humour to Mad Love, especially in the scenes with the supporting characters of a journalist and a gin-tippling maid (who has a Cockney accent despite the film being set in France) and an ongoing subplot that plays on her misunderstanding about Gogol bringing a headless body to the lab. This is something that the film, in a startling left field twist halfway through, turns around and tries to get us to buy as real in one genuinely outre image, the executed killer appears to Colin Clive with gleaming metal hands, body brace, dark glasses and a hat, whispering how Gogol has attached his severed head to an artificial body.
Chief among the torrid melodramatics is the amazing performance from Peter Lorre. The German-born Lorre received enormous acclaim for his performance as the child killer in Fritz Langs M (1931). This allowed Lorre to emigrate to Hollywood to evade Nazi rule (something a number of other German artists also did, including Lang and Mad Loves director Karl Freund). The role of Gogol solidified Peter Lorre with American audiences and ensured a career in horror and noir that lasted until his death in 1964. In bald head, characteristically silky nasal voice, and crying out such lines as I, a poor peasant, have conquered science, why cant I conquer love? You must be mine, the craven twistedness of Lorres performance is amazing to watch. In fact, Gogol becomes such a fascinatingly twisted character that he overshadows the entire film. All other versions of the Hands of Orlac story have been psychological stories that focus on a pianist who wakes from an operation to find that he had the hands of a killer and where the surgeon character is secondary to Orlac. Here, as evidence the title change to Mad Love, the surgeon becomes the central character and Orlac of peripheral importance to the story. Now what we have is a mad surgeon story rather than a possessed hands story.
Mad Love (1995) is not a remake but a banal romantic story about a schizophrenic Drew Barrymore. The plot of The Hands of Orlac was also loosely reworked in Guy Maddins surreal melodrama Cowards Bend the Knee, or The Blue Hands (2003).
Director Karl Freund was an expatriate German, mostly known as a cinematographer, having worked for Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau. Arriving in Hollywood, Freund was offered the directors chair after filming the Bela Lugosi Dracula (1931). His first film (and one other horror entry) was the classic Boris Karloff The Mummy (1932). Freund made half-a-dozen films before returning to cinematography following Mad Love.