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The Mad Genius (1931)

Unrated | | Drama, Horror, Romance | 7 November 1931 (USA)
A crippled man finds a boy and vows to make him a great dancer.


Michael Curtiz


Martin Brown (play), J. Grubb Alexander (screenplay) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
John Barrymore ... Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov
Marian Marsh ... Nana Carlova
Charles Butterworth ... Karimsky
Donald Cook ... Fedor Ivanoff
Luis Alberni ... Sergei Bankieff
Carmel Myers ... Sonya Preskoya
André Luguet ... Count Robert Renaud (as Andre Luguet)
Frankie Darro ... Fedor as a Boy


A crippled puppeteer rescues an abused young boy and turns the boy into a great ballet dancer. Complications ensue when, as a young man, the dancer falls in love with a young woman the puppeteer is also in love with. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Sweeping the Screen to New Horizons as the Man Who Thought He Could Play God With Men's Souls and Women's Bodies! (Print Ad- Troy Times, ((Troy NY)) 2 December 1931)


Drama | Horror | Romance


Unrated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

7 November 1931 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Coskun Gönüller See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The play opened in Great Neck, New York, USA in 1929, and never made it to Broadway. See more »


At breakfast with Fedor, Nana has her arms crossed on the table, then has one hand up to her chin in close-up, then in the next shot both arms are crossed on the table again. See more »


Count Robert Renaud: [reading Le Vie Parisienne on the train] Haha, this one is good. Listen to this one Nana. It was their wedding night. The timid bride knelt by her bedside saying her prayers. The groom waited patiently beside her. At last, she said And now I lay me down to sleep. And the groom said, Oh yeah?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits are shown over a background of a figure dancing; a reference to the plot which involves a dancer. See more »


Referenced in Taxi (1932) See more »


Danse Russe Trépak
from "Nutcracker Suite, Op.71a"
Written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Played during the opening puppet sequence
See more »

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User Reviews

Barrymore strong in a dark, twisted role
18 September 2018 | by gbill-74877See all my reviews

This film feels a little like a Tod Browning production, with John Barrymore in the role of a dark, twisted man that we could imagine Lon Chaney playing for Browning, but it's actually directed by Michael Curtiz. Barrymore leads a ballet troupe and jealously guards his young protégé (Donald Cook), who he's raised from a boy since essentially stealing him from his abusive peasant father (Boris Karloff, briefly). He wants to use him to live out his own frustrated dreams of being a great dancer. He has no problem supplying the young man with lovers from the troupe, but doesn't want him to form any attachments, for fear it will impact his artistic abilities, and also of course because he's afraid of losing control. Enter Marian Marsh, a sweet young dancer who he falls in love with, thus setting up the central conflict in the film.

When he's not busy trying to control the young man, Barrymore is up to no good elsewhere. He supplies drugs to his conductor (Luis Alberni), who is desperately addicted. He makes it clear to young ballerinas (Mae Madison and later Carmel Myers) that if they want to get ahead, they need to "see him" in his private office. He also berates his secretary (Charles Butterworth, who provides some comic relief with his bumbling), responding to one of his ideas by saying "It's incredible. It's unbelievable... that there should be any human being living who is such a stupid ass." Barrymore is excellent throughout the film and turns in a performance that dominates, though Cook and Marsh are reasonably good as well. The brief segments of ballet scenes, often in practice, show realistic and solid dancing.

The film starts strong, but loses a little bit of its steam in the second half, and not completely living up to its potential. The direction from Curtiz is great, with creative shot angles and editing, but the plot is a little simple. It's hard to believe I'd say that a film with open drug use, predatory sexual behavior, and an axe murder wouldn't be dark enough, and yet, somehow I wanted more. Maybe I've been watching too many pre-code movies lately.

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