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While I’m working on a review of a movie that’s not the Mummy since I didn’t see it (and may or may not in the future). Check out my review of the original Mummy Movie anyway

The Mummy Review

Mad Love (1935)

1935!

1935 is one of the most important years in cinematic history. It is the year when the nascent media transcended novelty and became the polished medium audiences have come to love. There had been great films, both long and short, which had started this trend, yet 1935 was the year when films finally combined the important factors which constitute modern cinema. When we think of movies, we think of stories, visual images aided by sound relaying information to the audience, it is a reactive and interactive experience. The difference between a photograph and a film is one of motion and expense. A photo can be produced for very little money; a film requires capital, cooperation, and executives. It is only akin to theater in that regard and modern music. 1935 is the year when theater and photography colluded to produce the first string of modern films. Prior to that the great films were either extensions of theater, or extensions of photography; Un Chien Andalou, an art house romp replete with daring and strong imagery, lacked a cohesive narrative. Grand Hotel on the other hand, and the like, were plays which were photographed, and sold for profit. Previously few films were the hybrid mix which audiences have come to call movies; some exceptions include Capra’s It Happened One Night, and Fritz Lang’s M, and there are a few others. Two very important films were released in 1935. The first was Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, the second was German cinematographer Karl Freund’s horror classic Mad Love.  

 Heavy bar shadows cast behind Yvonne, used later in many film noirs

A remake of the classic German silent the The Hands of Orlac (1924), Mad Love combines the spectacle of theater and the narrative lens of photography to deliver a chilling tale of the human condition in a sophisticated package, which was instrumental in harking in the new wave of filmmaking of the late thirties that would transform the medium. Gregg Toland, the famed cinematographer of Citizen Kane worked on this film under Karl Freund and through this association Toland started to hone his technique which resulted in the explosive visual narrative of Kane. As Pauline Kael has asaid, without Mad Love, Citizen Kane could not have been as seminal. When I first watched Mad Love, I had to continually check and re-check the year it was made, as I couldn’t believe such a strong film could have been produced so early on in the mediums history.

 Doctor Gogol watches Yvonne in a gestalt shadow

Doctor Gogol dealing with Yvonne’s marriage

The film centres on the brilliant surgeon Doctor Gogol (Peter Lorre), and his obsession with Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), the actress wife of the brilliant pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). Gogol rents the same box night after night at the theater where Yvonne performs. Upon meeting her he finds she is married, and his passion turns to compulsion, he must possess her. He even goes so far as to purchase a wax figure in her likeness, and talks to his ideal wax woman, nicknaming her Galatia from the myth of Pygmalion. Stephen Orlac is maimed in a train accident and his hands must be amputated, thus destroying his career. Yvonne, in desperation pleads with Doctor Gogol to help her husband. Despite his hatred for the man, he agrees to help, however he decides to play a horrible trick on them. Gogol successfully transplants the hands of a murderous knife thrower onto Stephen. Yvonne and Stephen struggle with the mounting medical bills during his rehabilitation, Gogol still without the woman he loves, decides to start conditioning Stephen to commit murder. First he reveals whose hands he grafted onto Stephen, and starts to sow a seed of discourse in Stephens mind. Can a body part have a will of its own? Finally Stephen’s step-father is murdered and Stephen is arrested. Yvonne, in a panic, races to Gogol for his assistance unaware of his part in the plot and she finds the wax statue of herself and her life becomes unravelled as she stares at herself.

Stephens fate, the hands of a killer

Gogol wrestles with helping Stephen

Mad Love pushes the visual narrative of the nineteen-thirties. The composition and lighting is clean and crisp for the time period. It lacks the awkward staging and editing of early Hollywood talkies, as seen in films like Dinner at Eight one of George Cukor’s earlier works. It would also serve as a visual template for the film noir genre made popular ten years later by Double Indemnity. Many other filmmakers would copy the style and visual rhythm of Yvonne’s dream sequence and Stephens’s rehabilitation montage years later, notably Farewell My Lovely and Dark Passage. The film has one foot in the past, the German expressionist influence is hard to miss, and one foot in the future, advanced visual narrative.

 The heavily homaged dream sequence

Eureka! Gogol hatches his fiendish plot

Gogol’s id and superego battle it out

Mirrors, reflections, and windows play an important part in the narrative. Gogol frequently talks to his subconscious mind in mirrors. This is a strict Freudian battle between Gogol’s id and superego over his passion for Yvonne. True to form Brian De Palma would steal borrow the mirror scene for Phantom of the Paradise when Swan is talking to the devil. When Stephen is sitting in a train he has to wipe the window of fog to see the murderer being escorted onto the train, foreshadowing his fate. Yvonne is faced with herself in wax at the end of the film, a three dimensional reflection that lacks a soul. Perhaps an analogue to men’s desire for weak, demure, and silent women; the tail end of first wave feminism was changing the role of women in society, aided by Hollywood starlets wearing pants, and chasing men.

Stephen must clear his mind to his fate

 The perfect woman?

Another theme recurrent in the film is the ancient notion of destroying that which you love, and like Othello strangled Desdemona, Gogol is faced with a similar decision in the final act of the film. Should he destroy the woman he loves to save himself? I don’t wish to spoil the ending, but it’s a strange fate that befalls Doctor Gogol, he serves indirectly as the instrument of his own destruction. Aside from the hammy theatrical acting that was rampant in early talkies, Mad Love delivers a compelling story with heavy moral tones that is still fresh today.

German expressionism 2.0

As I’ve been writing and researching these films the past few weeks I’ve started to notice a commonality between them. None of these films made huge profits or they took a huge loss. Mad Love is no exception. Adjusting for inflation, the film was produced for just under four million dollars and lost seven hundred thousand dollars. Therefore, MGM was eager to put the picture behind them, and continue moving forward. Sometimes a seminal and important work is too daring, new, or unusual that it fails to capture the heart and minds of a general audience. What it does is speaks to people in the industry, the phenomenon is seen in all art forms. The musician’s musician, the comic’s comic, or the filmmaker’s filmmaker. These are the works that inspire future generations. Mad Love falls into this category, as it is intelligent and sophisticated. It lacks the campy fright of Dracula or Frankenstein that audiences had come to expect of the genre. It introduced a new star, Peter Lorre, to American audiences, and was later disavowed by that star as “not a very good film.” Perhaps Lorre’s was speaking out of frustration as this film cemented him as an actor who portrays freaks and villains; a campy supporting persona, as opposed to the serious dramatic actor that Lorre wished to be. 

Gogol conditions Stephen to commit murder

However, As Stephen Thomas Erlewine said of the Beatles album Sgt. Peppers “It open[ed] the doors of rock music to rooms and vistas which no one at the time knew existed,”  Mad Love opens that door for Hollywood, as The 39 Steps did for Europe. The next year John Ford would make the visually compelling Mary Queen of Scots, and four years later William Wyler would shoot The Letter, and a year after that Gregg Toland would assist Orson Welles in making Citizen Kane. It’s possible that without Mad Love the medium wouldn’t have evolved as quickly as it did before America entered world war two. It is a lost film, only known to filmmakers and historians. Even searching the movie on the IMdB brings up rom-com’s of the same title but not this film. If you want to see a transformative and visually compelling film, check out Mad Love. It’s interesting to watch, and speaks to some of our basic primitive emotions such as desire, violence, and guilt.

Yvonne stares at her three dimensional reflection

10

Metropolis (1927)

Director - Fritz Lang, Cinematography - Karl Freund, Günther Rittau, Walter Ruttmann

“Who is the living food for the machines in Metropolis - ? Who lubricates the machine joints with their own blood - ? Who feeds the machines with their own flesh - ? Let the machines starve, you fools - ! Let them die - ! Kill them - the machines - !”