350) Mad Love (1935) Dir: Karl Freund Date Released: July 1935 Date Seen: October 19, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5
352) The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) Dir: Robert Florey Date Released: February 1947 Date Seen: October 20, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5
Hard as it may be to conceive of a way that a double bill of horror films starring the iconic Peter Lorre and a pair of murderous, possessed hands could leave one feeling cold, the feeling recently stole over poor, unflappable, lil ol' me. Silly as it may have been, I watched Karl Freund's Mad Love to get a sense of where Lorre and those manicured killers had gone before I ventured to Lincoln Center to see him get similarly manhandled in The Beast with Five Fingers. That's pretty much like watching the original Wanted: Dead or Alive tv show to get into the Rutger Hauer vehicle in the '80s by the same name. Don't do it. It will only end in heartbreak.
The Beast with Five Fingers is easily the more dull film of the pair but Mad Love, I hasten to admit, also left me feeling a little cold. Five Fingers has a more complicated plot and a lot more campy humor, like a D-grade William Castle version of The Tell Tale Heart with elements of a Poirot mystery thrown in for good measure. Lorre's a lot more obvious in it and his role is pretty lousy too. He plays an obsessed astrologer whose patron dies mysteriously and is now convinced that the dead man's left hand is running amok though it's painfully obvious that he's the guilty culprit (he conspicuously sashays into the room right after all the murders are committed, insisting that he heard, saw nothing). Curt Siodmak, brother of Robert, provides a leaden screenplay comprised almost entirely of banter, some of which works early on but most of which is pretty flat.
As for Mad Love, I unfortunately probably admire it without really liking it too much. It has a lot of effective atmosphere--Lorre's zombie-like face looks great front-lit as it often is here--thanks to its German Expressionist influences but the rest is simultaneously too grandiose and too knotty to be very stirring. Lorre plays a lovesick, mad surgeon whose comeuppance is delivered by a flying scalpel hurled by the very dead man's hands he used to replace the mangled paws of a pianist, who also happens to be the lover of his object of obsession. It's got all the scope and incredulity of a tawdry opera, one that could easily fit in as the opening act to a double bill of Tosca. There's a combo I could get behind.