I might have to pop in a Mr. Moto film tonight!
Archive for Peter Lorre
Peter Lorre (born László Löwenstein, Rózsahegy, Austria-Hungary, 1904) garners my vote for the greatest supporting actor of all time. Just like Bela Lugosi, he is a presence in just about everything he was in, beginning with international fame in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), as a villain in arguably the first Film Noir Stranger On the Third Floor (1940), with Bogie in Warner Bros’ classics The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Passage to Marseille (1944) and others, as Conseil in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and opposite Steve McQueen in a memorable Roald Dahl penned “Hitchcock Presents” episode Man from the South (1960). Finding Peter Lorre films is an obsession with me because he is that good. He elevates a bland film into something watchable. Try and imagine The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) without Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.
For a long time I searched for the scarce The Face Behind the Mask (1941), which was worth the wait, Island of Doomed Men (1940) FILM HERE, where Lorre is so despicable he shoots a pet monkey, and, reviewed here, The Chase (1946) FILM HERE, which just received a new transfer to Blu-ray from UCLA/Film Foundation archival 35mm elements. Of the three films, The Chase might be the best. It’s definitely weird and non-linear and it caught me off guard.
The Chase was scripted by Oscar-winning writer Philip Yordan (El Cid, Johnny Guitar, The Day of the Triffids, The Big Combo and several others) and directed by Arthur Ripley (of which there is sparsely written). The film was nominated as [best] feature film at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival losing to René Clément’s The Damned (1946) in the Prix du meilleur film d’aventures et policier Adventure and Crime category.
The Chase stars likeable everyman Robert Cummings as trauma-ridden naval man Chuck Scott who has a mysterious past, who chances upon a billfold full of money. He returns the money to psychopathic millionaire Eddie Roman (actor Steve Cochran)(White Heat, 1949), who hires Scott as a chauffeur. Lorre serves as Roman’s confidant, muse and bodyguard and he is VILE in this film, complaining about the cost of flowers and inflation, and feeding a sap to a bloodthirsty canine. The famous set piece of this film of course is the modified Eddie Roman sedan which features an accelerator pedal (+110 MPH) and brake opposite the rear passenger seat (“…take the wheel Chuck…”). All is well until Chuck meets Eddie’s gorgeous squeeze Lorna (Michèle Morgan)(Passage to Marseille) who dreams of escaping to Havana. That’s where the fun begins. Lorre is a joy to watch in this gem of a film.
Kino’s release has some extras including an audio commentary and two radio adaptations and selected film trailers. I noticed the print is not the best quality and quite grainy. The pops in the audio track (refer to the youtube link above) have largely been eliminated.
Yippee! Peter Lorre rocks.
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!