Very much a light addition to the horror genre, The Mad Genius is a decent romantic drama with a few splashes of horror thrown in toward the conclusion. As a whole, I don’t think the movie’s great, and nowhere near an undiscovered classic, but it’s okay, just arguably unmemorable.
The story here is okay, though, what with a crippled individual (John Barrymore of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Svengali) trying to vicariously live through a nimble protégé (Donald Cook), forcing the young man into a life of dancing, and when he’s distracted by love (in the form of Marian Marsh, who also appeared in Svengali, along with The Black Room), he stops at nothing to keep his control over the young man.
As such, John Barrymore does really well as a controlling, somewhat egotistical, individual. Donald Cook and Marian Marsh make a decently cute couple, and manage to hang on to each other through much of their hardships, but I couldn’t help but feel that, during these two’s scenes, the movie was drifting dangerously close to a romantic drama of sorts, and problematically (at least to a fan of horror, primarily), that’s a feeling felt throughout the film.
The conclusion here is certainly good, but I don’t know that it’s entirely worth watching the first hour of the movie for. Really, this works better as a drama than it does a horror, and though the elements are there come the ending of the film, I don’t think The Mad Genius can compete with most other horror films from the 1930’s, and ultimately, while the movie’s okay, it’s not much more.