This Mad World

(1930) 70 min. b&w

Basil Rathbone and Kay Johnson

This Mad World is a romantic melodrama that, although well-acted, was not a success. The film is presumed to be lost, so we do not have the possibility of seeing it unless MGM finds it in their archives.

The TV Guide Movie Database offers this plot summary of This Mad World:

Rathbone plays Paul, a French secret agent in the First World War, who travels behind enemy lines into Alsace-Lorraine on a mission. His mother runs an inn in Alsace-Lorraine, so Paul stops by to visit with her. While staying at his mother's inn, Paul meets and falls in love with Victoria, a guest at the inn, and the wife of a German general. Paul and Victoria carry on a passionate romance until Victoria learns that Paul was responsible for the death of her nephew. In retaliation Victoria betrays Paul and informs the Germans. Agonizing over the betrayal, Victoria commits suicide. Subsequently Paul is executed by the Germans. Paul's mother accepts her son's death stoically and plans to carry out his mission. "A gloomy picture which was far from uplifting for a Depression era audience." (TV Guide)

Louis Natheaux and Basil Rathbone

Paul (Rathbone), in peasant's costume, successfully tricks the German advance guard.


This Mad World
Drawn Out and Heavy

(Reviewed by Sherwin Kane)

This adaptation of the French war play, "Terre Inhumaine," proves to be an ordinary dramatization of one of those war interludes in which the agents of the intelligence service triumph even though the enemy's firing squad is satisfied at the end. Sharing in this are all the nobler but, alas, less intriguing virtues, such as, self-sacrifice, mother love, duty consciousness and unreasoning patriotism. Having been authored by a Frenchman it is distinctly national in tone; the successful exploits of the servants of that nation being achieved with a simplicity little short of remarkable.

The picture has its entertaining moments, as what story of love and wartime intrigue has not? Unfortunately, these moments are too far separated to contribute a great deal as a whole, but even though it may not be necessary for you to install an additional ticket machine during its run it is safe to say your customers will not demand their money back later.

Basil Rathbone is the ingenious French spy who, impelled by a secret mission and a desire to visit his mother, lands behind the German line in Lorraine and makes his way to the maternal inn. Here he is recognized by the wife of a German general who is on hand to keep a rendezvous with her husband. She is circumvented in attempting to cause his arrest, and here we are asked to believe that love flowers in time to stay the trigger finger of the spy.

No century plant is this love, we learn by intimation in the following morning's scene. Overnight it has come to full bloom, and not even the boasting of the spy about "a little job" he had pulled off in Belgium which, incidentally, cost the life of his new sweetheart's nephew, could wither it. For, even though in her anguish at his confession, she seeks to cause his arrest, she is moved to commit suicide at the thought of having betrayed her lover.

Hearing the suicidal shot, the Germans enter the house to investigate. The spy's mother disclaims knowledge of his identity in order that she may be free to culminate his mission, and the son is led out by the firing squad.

Kay Johnson is the wife of the German general. Louise Dresser is the mother. These two, with Rathbone, carry out about eighty-five per cent of the action alone. You would think that this paucity of principals would help to speed the picture on its way and carry it to a swift and uninterrupted ending. But it doesn't. The picture suffers from lack of action, a result of the director's efforts to adhere closely to the original stage play. In consequence, scenes which are intended to build suspense, not satisfied with achieving it, go on interminably and result in being merely irritating. Some judicious cutting could have moved it to a smoother and more absorbing climax.

Motion Picture News, April 19, 1930, p. 71

Originally titled Inhuman Ground (after the French play Terre Inhumaine), the film was planned to star Zita Johann opposite Basil Rathbone. In July 1929 the title was changed to "Twelve Hours of Love." By February 1930, the film was being publicized as "This Mad World," and Kay Johnson had replaced Zita Johann (The Film Daily, February 5, 1930).

Paul surprises Anna (Veda Buckland).

The happy reunion between Paul and his mother (Louise Dresser)

Pretending to be a German officer, Paul greets his mother's houseguest Victoria (Kay Johnson)

Mom welcomes her boy with food.


This Mad World

Directed by ...... William De Mille
Featuring ...... Basil Rathbone, Kay Johnson
French play "Terre Inhumaine" by Francois Decurel

An unusually well produced drama of the World War concerning a princess and a soldier in the secret service. A Frenchman goes to his home in Alsace-Lorraine to spend his leave with his mother and finds there a young German princess who has taken up her residence with the French woman. The girl is torn between loyalty to her country and love for a man and the outcome of this story makes a most interesting picture.

For the mature audience.

National Board of Review, April 1930, p. 20

Basil Rathbone was under contract with MGM in 1930. Louise Dresser was loaned from Fox, where she was under contract.

Paul and his mother see Victoria leaving the house to betray Paul to the Germans.

Paul plans to kill Victoria, but falls in love with her instead.

Paul and Victoria

Paul and Victoria


"This Mad World" with Kay Johnson, soon at Lexington

Which was her greatest passion--her country or her love?

The answer may be found in "This Mad World," coming to Loew's Lexington Theater today and tomorrow with Basil Rathbone and Kay Johnson in the principal roles.

Rathbone, as a French spy, flies across German lines to make his mother's home in Alsace the center of a short espionage adventure. Unfortunately, a few hours previous, a German princess traveling incognito to visit her husband, a general in the German Army, is billeted at this same house on her way to the lines, and she recognizes the spy, regardless of his German uniform, because of his photograph in the farmhouse album.

Realizing that she suspects him, Paul decides to kill her and lures her into the woods, and the climax, charged with electrical intensity comes as an unexpected but entirely logical ending.

The Daily Star, Brooklyn, New York, July 3, 1930, p. 8

"Some splendid moments, and good performances by Miss Johnson, Mr. Rathbone and Louise Dresser." Screenland, October 1930

Paul and Victoria

Paul and Victoria

Paul and Victoria

Paul and Victoria

"Basil Rathbone was good."  Exhibitors Herald-World, August 2, 1930


Good acting and skillful direction have made this an interesting and entertaining picture, even if it is somewhat gruesome by reason of the fact that both the hero and the heroine die in the end. There are several situations that appeal to the emotions deeply. The situation that shows the mother forced to deny any relationship to her son (hero), thus being compelled helplessly to stand by and watch him go to his death as a spy, should stir one's emotions to the very depths. Another stirring situation is that in which the heroine, a German noblewoman, feels impelled to make known the fact that the hero, who is staying in the same house, is a French spy. However, her love for the hero is so great that she kills herself after having given out such information.

The hero's mother, a French patriot had been forced to give shelter to a German noblewoman (heroine), much to her resentment. The heroine is attracted by a picture of the hero and learns his relationship to the woman in whose home she is staying. The hero, a French spy, is on his way to accomplish a very important matter for France, and even though it means taking a great risk, he stops off to see his mother, whom he had not seen for two years. The hero and the heroine meet. She recognizes him from his photograph and realizing that he is a French spy plans to betray him. She steals out of the house during the night in order to get to the nearest village, but the hero, suspecting her motive, follows her. He corners her and tells her that he must kill her because she has too much information, even though he regrets doing so. She pleads for her life and the hero, who had become very much attracted to her, decides to spare her but to keep her under his watch. When they get back to the house they talk for a while and he learns that she is very unhappily married. They confess their love for each other and for a few hours forget about hatred and war. In the morning, the heroine, remembering her pride and her love for her country, betrays the hero, but takes her own life, confessing to the hero before she dies that she loved him more than her own life. The hero is caught by the Germans and is shot as a spy.

The plot has been taken from a story by Francois de Curel, "Inhuman Ground" and adapted by Clara Beranger. Basil Rathbone is the hero, Kay Johnson, the heroine, Louise Dresser, the mother. The talk is intelligible. (Silent values, good.)

Note: This picture has been shown in this territory for the first time.

Harrison's Report, July 12, 1930, p. 111

"Strong, interesting, beautifully spoken, finely acted, closely knit, Romeo and Juliet themeof a French spy and German countess during the world warin which duty tragically wins out over love." Educational Screen, May 1930, p. 145

Paul and Victoria

Paul and Victoria

Paul and his mother

Paul and his mother


Tragedy stalks in this story of warring nations. Louise Dresser, whose son is a French spy, is forced by the Germans to give shelter to Kay Johnson, a Hapsburg princess traveling incognito to meet her German husband behind the lines. When the mother discovers that the princess has learned that Basil Rathbone is a spy, she plots with her son to kill Kay, so that she may not betray him to the Germans and prevent his giving valuable information to his own officers..

Realizing her danger, and disappointed by her husband's refusal to see her, the princess deliberately intrigues the spy, which provides some dramatic and thrilling situations.

Talking Screen, April 30, 1930, p. 59

"Although Rathbone turned in an above-par performance as the film's hero, as did Kay Johnson playing opposite him, they were hindered by a pedestrian script, which marred the entire project."  Michael B. Druxman, Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films (South Brunswick and New York: A.S. Barnes, 1975) p. 129

Paul and Victoria

Victoria is feeling guilty about her betrayal of Paul.

Victoria is dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Victoria dies.



Based on the book, "Terre Inhumaine," and depicting the love between a French spy, masquerading as a German officer, and a married woman of the German nobility. They meet in the home of the boy's mother. The woman feels it her duty to report the spy; and he in turn feels that he should kill her to save himself and carry out his duty to his own country. Most of the footage is taken up with the conflict between these two in the mother's house. They finally confess their love for each other, declaring that war is madness and only love matters, but in the end the woman's sense of duty prevails and she discloses his identity to the enemy, after which she commits suicide just as the spy is led away. Dialogue is excellent and suspense is well maintained despite small amount of action. Basil Rathbone plays the spy with plenty of dash, and good performances are given by Kay Johnson as the German girl and Louise Dresser as the spy's mother.

Direction, good. Photography, okay.

The Film Daily, July 13, 1930, p. 10

"The first important war story in Talking pictures. ... A tense drama of France in war days that contains the most gripping dramatic situation you've ever experienced." Motion Picture News, June 29, 1929

Paul and his mother

Paul gives his mother a final hug.

The Germans capture Paul.

Paul says good-bye to his mother and goes off to his execution

See Page Two for posters, lobby cards, and more promo photos.


Basil Rathbone ... Paul
Kay Johnson ... Victoria
Louise Dresser ... Pauline
Veda Buckland ... Anna
Louis Natheaux ... Emile
Wilhelm von Brincken ... the German general (Victoria's husband)
Production Company ... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Director ... William C. DeMille
Writers ... Francois de Curel (play: Terre Inhumaine)
  Clara Beranger (adaptation)
  Clara Beranger and Arthur Caesar (dialog)
  Madeleine Ruthven (titles)
Cinematographers ... Peverell Marley, Harold (Hal) Rosson
Film Editing ... Anne Bauchens
Art Director ... Cedric Gibbons
Sound Engineers ... J.K. Brock, Douglas Shearer
Costumes ... Adrian




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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2016