Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Peter Lorre vs. Drew Barrymore

Tonight's featured film on TCM is one of Peter Lorre's first American films, Mad Love, airing at 8:00 PM ET.

The plot of this 1935 horror movie is simple, but a heck of a lot of fun. Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein from the 1931 Universal version of Mary Shelley's story) plays a concert pianist who's engaged to a stage actress (played by Frances Drake). She's about to leave the stage to marry Clive, but life takes a turn for the worse for both of them when he gets injured in a train accident and is no longer able to play the piano as a result. Regular doctors are unable to help Clive, and Drake, by now desperate with bills mounting up, turns to maverick doctor Peter Lorre for help.

Unfortunately, whe she doesn't realize is that he's got an unhealthy obsession with her. Lorre, complete with shaved head, decides to get revenge on Clive for taking away the woman he loves by transplanting onto the concert pianist the hands of a guillotined knife thrower (character actor Edward Brophy, in a brief but highly enjoyable role). The result should be predictable: Clive regains the use of his hands, but not as a particularly good pianist; instead, he become an expert knife-thrower -- and is unable to control his newfound compulsion for throwing knives!

Yes, this is almost as silly as it seems. But part of the charm of 1930s horror movies is that they're not very graphic. We don't need to see much blood if there's a good plot driving the movie. The plot here isn't the greatest, but it's more than adequate, and all of the elements combine fairly well for an ending that you might be able to see coming, but works and satisfies the folks enforcing the Production Code. I don't know if I would show it to young children -- I wouldn't want to give them any ideas about throwing knives -- but I'd much rather show Mad Love to older children than the horror movies of today.

Those who have seen a lot of movies will recognize the title Mad Love as having been used in the mid-1990s for a movie starring Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell. That movie, however, has absolutely nothing to do with this one apart from sharing a title. It's also inferior in almost every way to the Peter Lorre movie.

The 1935 version of Mad Love is available on DVD and is a fun, if not very horrifying, horror movie. It you really want to be horrified, though, rent the DVD of an old, fat Lorre in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

No comments: