Maurice Renard's 1920 novel Les Mains d'Orlac touched a very specific nerve during the first half of the 20th century, spawning no less than four adaptations from the silent era until the early 1960s. A kind of bargain-bin Frankenstein, it tells the story of a pianist who receives surgical transplants of both hands following an accident, with his new hands retaining the murderous impulses of their former host. For whatever reason, this story has not endured in popularity over the last 60 years, but its 1935 instance, Mad Love, provided, at the very least, one of the best platforms for Peter Lorre to play at his goony best.
Mad Love amusingly puts Colin Clive (best known as Victor Frankenstein in Universal's classic monster movies) in the role of the pianist Stephen Orlac — this time Clive is victim to the maniacal whims of a mad scientist — but the film is more focused on Dr. Gogol (Lorre), whose infatuation with Orlac's actress wife (Frances Drake) inspires him to act like a major creep while not inventing new surgeries at the spur of the moment. Following a train wreck, Gogol gives Orlac the hands of a freshly executed dagger-throwing murderer, and almost instantly Orlac is uncontrollably chucking every knife he comes across.
Mad Love is very silly, and that's compounded by extremely lazy writing and staging throughout. However, Lorre is so much fun to watch in his prime and doing what he does best, that he single-handedly rescues Karl Freund's final directorial outing. Freund gives Lorre a lot to work with — scenes opposite a wax mannequin he believes has come to life, a disguise with blackened goggles and metal hands, and a couple of desperate speeches about love — and it pays off to the degree that Clive's ineptly conceived section of the movie seems like a complete afterthought.
Freund, more notable as a cinematographer (Universal's Dracula), crafts some neat imagery with the help of D.P.s Greg Toland and Chester A. Lyons. the homage to Paris' Grand Guignol theatre adds some neat opportunities for eerie flair to the first third.