Peter Lorre
    Actor

    1904-1964

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    Peter Lorre was born Ladislav Loewenstein on June 26, 1904 in Rozsahegy, Hungary. Both a skilled actor and a unique screen presence, Peter Lorre was one of the movies' most memorable personalities. Lorre appeared on the stage and had several small film roles in Europe before coming to international attention in 1931 in Fritz Lang's M. Lorre's performance as the child-murderer set the standard for all sexual psychopaths on film since. Initially, his cherubic face and protruding eyes project the perfect mask of innocence. But as the film progresses and the massed forces of the police and the underworld close in on him, that innocence collapses into a series of feral outbursts. Lorre's confession scene is a finely balanced mixture of self-loathing and uncontrollable passion that still produces a painful double blow of revulsion and pity in viewers. Peter Lorre's performance in M remains one of the greatest in the history of cinema.


Peter Lorre

    Almost as quickly as he achieved world-wide fame, Lorre became typecast. In spite of his diminuitive size, Lorre became synonymous with dread. Fleeing the Nazi machine, Lorre left Germany in 1933, landing in England, where Alfred Hitchcock exploited his image by casting him as the head of a ring of kidnappers who menace young Nova Pilbeam in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934).

    Two years later Hitchcock cast him in a similar role in Secret Agent. For Mad Love (1935), his first American film and a rare foray into horror for MGM, Lorre's head was shaved, further emphasizing his bulging eyes and giving him a slick, reptilian appearance. In his second Hollywood outing he played yet another murderer - Raskolnikov in Sternberg's version of Crime and Punishment (1935) - an excellent performance in a rather disappointing film. Although obssesives and psychopaths were Lorre's stock-in-trade, he never gave the same performance twice. Each of his villains was a singular creation born out of distinctive character psychology and motivations.

    Between 1937 and 1939 Lorre stepped into a more conventional role, playing the Japanese detective Mr. Moto in eight films for 20th Century-Fox. Always beneath the easy-going surface of Lorre's Moto was a threatening edge that made the character far more interesting than most of Hollywood's other series detectives. This ability to give subtle shading to his acting was a key to Lorre's success. All his villainous roles have a darkly humorous touch, while his light or comedic performances feature a sinister undertone. The slight twist in his performances gave them a tension that continues to tantalize audiences.

    Most of Lorre's starring roles were in B features, where he was often teamed with Sydney Greenstreet, although a number of these films were better than typical Hollywood A product. For instance, Lorre added a judicious amount of pathos to his role as a vengeful, disfigured immigrant in The Face Behind the Mask (1941), turning the film into an eloquent statement about the failure of the American dream. Throughout the 1940s Lorre added color to movies in numerous supporting roles, notably in Warner Bros. films, as Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Ugarte, the obsequious black marketeer, in Casablanca (1942).

    By the end of the decade, Lorre's face and silken voice had become so recognizable that he was caricatured in Warner Bros. cartoons and on Spike Jones records. He even successfully parodied his "image" in films like Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and My Favorite Brunette (1947), yet he was never reduced to parodying himself.

    During the 1950s, health problems forced Lorre to take fewer roles, although he did expand his repertoire with a musical, Silk Stockings (1957) and several comedies. His comedic talent was displayed in a 1960s series of comedy/horror films for American-International Pictures. His precise timing and droll delivery in The Raven (1963) suggested that Hollywood never fully explored Lorre's range as an actor.

    Peter Lorre died in 1964, at the age of 60.




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    dvds | videos

    michael balcon | alfred hitchcock | laurence olivier | victor saville | conrad veidt
    humphrey bogart | howard hawks | frank capra | charlie chaplin | lauren bacall | fritz lang
    f.w. murnau | george raft | edward g. robinson | john garfield | erich von stroheim | wim wenders | robert wiene


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