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MAD LOVE (1935)/THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1948)


Arkadin
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We?re getting a Peter Lorre twofer tomorrow in the horror genre. MAD LOVE (1935) and THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1948) were made well over ten years apart, but both deal with pianists, severed hands, and a succumbing to madness.

 

MAD LOVE is the better known of the pair and deservedly so. A talking remake of THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924) (Kino will re-release a restoration of the silent version this year!), Lorre and Karl Freund make this film their own with ingenious sets and a Tour de Force performance. Pauline Kael in her article Raising Kane, accused Orson Welles of borrowing set ideas and his older Kane makeup from this film, and there does seem to be a connection.

 

Colin Clive, who is this time the recipient of a crazed doctors fanaticism instead of the perpetrator, is superb here (?This is my pen.?). His wonderful imbalanced nature is well played, but probably owed some debt to his alcoholism, which was reaching it?s final stages at this time.

 

THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS is an entirely different kettle of fish, dealing more with special effects than individual performances. Nevertheless, Lorre does a fine job here and the film contains many interesting twists. Max Steiner also creates one of the more disturbing scores of his career in a film about a murdered pianist whose severed hand stalks the living.

 

In seeing STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) again recently, I was struck by the similarities in Lorre?s characters (5 FINGERS). Although the films are quite different they both play out in a whodunit style fashion with nightmarish sequences. The audience perception is the dividing factor, as director Robert Florey puts the hard task of distinguishing dream from reality in our laps for most of the film.

 

Lorre was capable of much more than crazed maniacs (Don?t miss his wonderful role in THREE STRANGERS [1946] coming up in March), but was mostly typecast by Hollywood directors that never tapped the broader range of his talents. His performances here are incredible and you can see how it?s not just his eyes or facial movements, but the way he carries his body. Notice how he will make himself rigid and taut and then go limp working the two back and forth in a series of climaxes and releases as his characters lose touch with reality. While equally adept at comedy and other roles, it?s understandable these are the types of films he is remembered for. One last note, if you are a pianist, I urge you to practice before viewing. You might not feel up to it afterwards.

 

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To me, "Mad Love" is right behind "Bride of Frankenstein" as the best horror movie of the thirties. Lorre is terrific, but so is Colin Clive as the poor pianist. The bit parts are excellently cast as well.

 

"Beast With Five Fingers" has good moments, such as when Victor Francen dies and when Lorre "deals with" the hand, but an awful number of scenes in the film, such as when Robert Alda scams the American tourists at the start of the movie, don't seem to belong in a horror film. Also, "Beast" must be saddled with the absolute worst last scene of any horror movie. Actually, Warner Brothers seemed to specialize in sabotaging their horror films with a "leave 'em laughing" scene. I can't stand the endings of "Mystery of the Wax Museum" and "The Bad Seed" either.

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