Ted Healy’s quick-patter wise guy giggles-and-groans is the last thing I expected in the world of Mad Love--Peter Lorre finally in America--and be careful what you wish for. Orlacs Hände is revisited--but it’s the doctor who commands Mad Love, Lorre squashed down like a troll, his froggy eyes ravenous for Stephen Orlac’s wife--an actress at the Grand Guignol--and no, nothing is clean in this movie--including Healy, a nosy newspaperman, yukking it up as though he’d wandered in from another picture--one of his own, where everybody else is a stooge, and all problems are solved by head-knocking and pants-dropping.
But Lorre and the plot are so demented that Healy is (practically) silenced. Doctor Gogol loves to watch Yvonne tortured on stage--but all that ends when she marries M. Orlac, the concert pianist, and she quits her career as a theatrical sadist. Gogol’s only consolation is the life-sized wax figurine of Yvonne that had graced the theater’s lobby--and he takes it home and sets it in his room, playing his organ (so to speak) and gazing at her through a mirror. As the director, Karl Freund brings all his fearless German brilliance to the images, which glow like putrescence under moonlight—especially Gogol in disguise, all tinted glass and rubber, in a scene as rife with fetishistic outrage as Kafka’s The Trial--a book glued together posthumously, floating along shining, sluggish night-waters, right to the verge of Mad Love, the two of them beautiful hysterics, their problems insurmountable, no matter how loud Healy barks.
And I won’t forget Orlac himself, hated by the step-father who has crossed out “et fils” from the sign of his business establishment--trying to stay one step ahead of the Oedipal rage that threatens at knife-point. And it is Stephen’s new proficiency with knives that tosses the last irony at this Modern Horror picture, impaling Orlac--is every true monster in the end a vampire?--and exorcising demons, all with a flick of the wrist.