Island of Doomed Men (1940)

For those craving Peter Lorre at his looney tunes best, look no further than Island of Doomed Men (1940). Upon watching a man getting flogged to a pulp and watching Peter Lorre gun down a monkey, my girlfriend commented today “That is not a very nice movie”. Lorre is at his vilest as sadistic slave-driver Stephen Danel.

Danel is owner of Dead Man’s Island, an isolated colony harboring parolled convicts on a rock loaded with mineral wealth in the form of diamonds. Lorre lives on the island with his terrified wife (Rochelle Hudson), a cook servant Siggy (George E. Stone), an ill-fated monkey, and several thugs.

I told you to keep that monkey OUT OF THE HOUSE!

Trouble surfaces when federal agent Mark Sheldon (Robert Wilcox) arrives undercover on the island masquerading as a parolled convict. Along the way we see Lorre psychologically abuse his wife, torture several men, bully and terrorize his cook –and then there’s that monkey. Remember the Nazi monkey from Raider of the Lost Ark (1981)? He ate the poisoned dates. This poor simian on The Island of Doomed Primates never had it so good.

What a screen presence Peter Lorre was —ugly splayed teeth, wide-set eyes, slicked back hair and that uncomparable voice. He was the perfect villain and the consummate sideman actor of over 100 films. He had a very minor role in Casablanca as Ugarte and you’d swear his presence lingered the entire film. As the lead heavy in Island of Doomed Men he’s probably unforgettable. How often do you see Peter Lorre (or any actor?) gun down a monkey? Peta stay away.

Lorre was a versatile actor, he played it all in so many memorable roles:

  • A clown (Skeeter), in The Big Circus (1959)
  • 007’s enemy Le Chiffe, in the Climax! (1954) rendition of Casino Royale
  • Conseil in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  • A carny rat in Quicksand (1950)
  • A toady as Toad in Rope of Sand (1949)
  • Comedic roles – e.g. Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
  • Aristocratic types (e.g. Joel Cairo in Casablanca, 1941)
  • Serial killers (M and Stranger on the Third Floor)
  • Detectives (Mr. Moto)
  • Side kicks (in several films)

Really, only the romantic lead role has escaped his marvelous career. Of course his legacy leaves us Mad Love (1935), as the tormented Doctor Gogol. Long live Peter Lorre. They don’t make ’em like they used too!

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