In his first American film, Peter Lorre portrays egg-bald Dr. Gogol. A brilliant and highly respected surgeon, Gogol would give up everything he has in life for the love of Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), star of the Parisian Horror Theatre. But Yvonne is deeply in love with her husband, concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). When Orlac loses his hands in a train accident, Yvonne pleads with Gogol to save her husband. Perversely, he does so by grafting the hands of a recently executed murderer onto Orlac. Not only is Orlac unable to resume his musical career, but he has suddenly developed a peculiar talent for throwing knives; he also has a bad habit of attempting to win arguments by throttling his opponents. Gleefully exploiting his patient's torment, Gogol disguises himself as the executed killer and tries to convince Orlac that he, Orlac, was responsible for a recent murder. In a effort to prove her husband's innocence, Yvonne goes to Gogol's home and switches places with a lifesize replica of herself that the obsessive Gogol keeps in his living room. Only the last-minute intervention of Orlac saves Yvonne from being strangled by the crazed Gogol. The first of several film versions of Maurice Renard's The Hands of Orlac, Mad Love was directed by cinematographer Karl Freund. Its deployment of certain visual elements that would later (consciously or otherwise) be adopted by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane brought Mad Love a surfeit of latter-day attention when Pauline Kael annotated the resemblances in her 1971 New Yorker article on Kane (Ms. Kael's assessment of Mad Love as a "dismal, static horror film" is both unfair and untrue).
by Hal Erickson synopsis