Monday, November 09, 2020

Mad Love, The Devil-Doll

I recently watched a double-feature of these two '30s macabre thrillers from MGM. Mad Love is probably the most "Universal" picture MGM ever made -- an quasi-Expressionist horror film based on the 1924 German film The Hands of Orlac. It's directed by Karl Freund, the top cinematographer of the German Expressionist movement who had recently come to Hollywood and was moving in to directing around this time. This version tells the same basic story about the brilliant concert pianist (Frankenstein's Colin Clive) who loses his hands in a horrific accident, and has them replaced with those of a recently-executed murderer. Before long, he begins to feel the same compulsion to kill. The emphasis in this version is put on the character of the mad, possessive doctor, played by Peter Lorre in a truly sinister performance, who obsesses over the musician's wife and only helps her husband for his own selfish reasons.

The Devil-Doll is the penultimate film from Tod Browning, one of Hollywood's most singular visionaries. It tells the fantastic story of a wrongly-accused man (Lionel Barrymore) who escapes from prison and returns to exact revenge on his business partners who framed him, by using miniaturized and re-animated human figures who carry out his diabolical demands. It's hard to imagine any other director making this film at MGM in 1936. Erich von Stroheim was one of the screenwriters.

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