Legendary character actor, Peter Lorre, was born Laszlo Lowenstein on Jun 26, 1904 in Rózsahegy, Hungary. Lorre appeared in over 110 film and TV roles. His best known films include the nine he appeared in with Sydney Greenstreet: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Background to Danger (1943), Passage to Marseill (1944), The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Three Strangers (1946), and The Verdict (1946). He also starred in a series of eight Mr. Moto movies during the late 1930s, and branched out into comedy as Dr. Einstein in Frank Capra's classic Arsenic and Old Lace starring Cary Grant and Raymond Massey (1944). Lorre died at the age of 59 on Mar 23, 1964 in Los Angeles, CA and was laid to rest in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, Los Angeles County, CA.
Peter Lorre was born Laszlo Lowenstien on June 26th, 1904 in what then the city of Rozahegy in Austria-Hungary, now the country of Slovakia. His was the first son of Jewish parents, Alajos and Elvira Lowenstien. His father worked as bookkeeper at a textile mill and served as a reserve officer for the Austro-Hungarian Army. Because of this, Alajos was often away for much of young Peter's most formative years. In 1908, when he was just four years old, Lorre's mother died of what appeared to be food poisoning. His father would soon remarry with the task of raising his three sons proving too much for the man to handle. Unfortunately for the young Peter, he and his stepmother would not get along and soon he grew into alienated, solemn child. Thanks to his father's vocation, Lorre and his family were often on the move, living in different areas of Europe including Romania, Vienna, Yugoslavia, and Austria. It was during this time Lorre picked up an interest in acting and began appearing local productions. He soon expressed his hopes of turning his interest into a career, but was met with strong disapproval from his father. Lorre then went on to business school then worked as a bank teller for a short time. He ultimately let himself get fired from his banking position in order to pursue acting full-time.
His early years as an actor were far from easy. Vienna's economy was now in shambles thanks the after effects of World War One and
finding any job, let alone an acting gig, was exceedingly difficult. Tired of
sleeping on park benches, Lorre went looking for work in other parts of Europe,
including Germany, Poland, and Switzerland settling on Berlin in 1928. During
this time Lorre suffered a burst appendix and was forced to undergo surgery. He
was given morphine to help ease the pain and soon he developed a lifetime
addiction to the substance. In 1929 Lorre appeared in the Bertlot Brecht
productions Happy End and Man Equals Man and later that year made
his film debut with an uncredited role in
Die verschwundene Frau (My Missing
Wife). For the next couple years he continued to appear on the German stage
in productions such as Die
Unuberwindlichen and Die
Quadratur des Kreises before returning to the screen in 1931 with one of
his best remembered film, Fritz Lang's M.
Inspired by the real-life serial killer Peter Kurten, M told the story of Hans Beckert (Lorre), a man with an unrelenting urge to kidnap and kill small children. The role was an immense success and brought Lorre global admiration from the film community while solidified Lorre's more sinister onscreen persona despite his previous triumphs in comedy. He continued to act in Germany until 1933, when the Nazi Party came to power. Being both Jewish and a creative intellectual, Lorre felt it was only a matter of time before he was rounded up and sent to prison. He was amongst the first wave of Jews to leave the country. He and his fiancs, Celia, first went to Paris were Lorre acted in one film before traveling to London on the request of Alfred Hitchcock. After seeing Lorre's performance in M, Hitchcock asked the actor to play the political assassin in his 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much. Because Lorre wasn't able to speak English at the time, Lorre was forced to learn most of his line phonetically. The film met with rave reviews with much of the praise going to Lorre's daring performance and soon after, Lorre was invited to take a trip west to try his hand in Hollywood.
Upon his arrival in Hollywood in 1936, Lorre signed a contract with Colombia pictures. He was immediately loaned to MGM studios for the horror film Mad Love. Although the film was a box office failure, many critics praised Lorre performance as the sinister scientist, Dr. Gogol. Lorre next starred as Raskolnikov in the Josef von Sternberg's slightly experimental silver screen adaption of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. The film was a failure both with at the box office and in the trade papers, but Lorre bounced back quickly with another Hitchcock collaboration, Secret Agent. In 1937 Lorre signed with Twentieth Century Fox and immediately began working on his first film the company Crack Up. Soon after, he began work on his next project playing the cunning Japanese detective, Mr. Moto, in Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Over the course of two years, Lorre would star in eight Mr. Moto films including Mr. Moto's Gamble, Mysterious Mr. Moto, Mr. Moto's Last Warning and Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation. In 1938 Lorre turned down the leading role in Universal Studio's Son of Frankenstein in hopes of avoiding typecasting himself sinister roles. The next year Lorre would end his contract at Fox due to their false promises and unfulfilled obligations to his career.
Now working as a freelance actor, Lorre had more control over the trajectory of his career but was unable to rid himself from being typecast as sinister characters. In 1940 he starred the B-movie Stranger on the Third Floor, playing the films titular stranger. The film was set in an urban area, filmed with heavy shadows, voice-narration, low camera angles and contained a morally obtuse protagonist. Because of these traits it is considered by many to be first film-noir prototype. His sinister streak would continue that year with the release of The Face Behind the Mask. In the film Lorre plays a gentle immigrant working in the U.S, who must turn to life of crime after his face his burned in boarding house fire. In 1941 he would star in another early film noir, this time John Huston's crime thriller The Maltese Falcon as the sly Joel Cairo opposite Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Within the next four years Greenstreet and Lorre would collaborate on nine films together. In 1942 he worked with Bogart and Greenstreet once again in the wartime romance Casablanca, playing the small but important role of black-marketeer, Ugarte.
At this point in his career, Lorre was one of the popular cultural icons of the Silver Screen. His silken voice, expressive eyes and unique facial expressions quickly became the target of parody The Looney Tunes and other satirical outlets. His onscreen persona of the subtle, yet sinister villain was also solidified by the early 1940s, despite his wish to avoid typecasting. He played the villain in films such as Background to Danger and Passage to Marseillie before taking a turn as the hero in 1944's The Mask of Dimitrios. That same year he also displayed is unique blend of sinister comedy in Frank Capra's surprisingly dark Arsenic and Old Lace. Two years later, in 1946, he worked with Sidney Greenstreet one last time for the Don Siegal film The Verdict.
After the end of WWII, Lorre's career went into a fast decline. In 1946 he was once again cast as the villain in two films, the first being the noir piece Black Angel. The second was the Robert Florey horror film The Beast with Five Fingers. In 1947 he once again took a stab at comedy with a supporting role in the film-noir spoof My Favorite Brunette starring Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Lon Chaney JR. He next year he co-starred in the forgettable crime/musical Casbah and followed that with the equally forgettable Rope of Sand. In 1950 he returned to Germany to work on his pet project Der Verlorene (The Lost One). The film, written, directed, and starring Lorre, was an allegory about the collective guilt of Germany due to its recent political past and crimes committed by the Nazis. The film was failure in Germany and never made it to American shores. Needless to say, it was an incredible disappointment for Lorre. He soon after returned to the United States.
Later Career and Life
By the mid-1950s Lorre's health starred to slowly decline. Because of this he spent more time in the medium of television than film He made appearances in series such as Lux Video Theatre, Suspense, The United States Steel Hour, and The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater. Although mostly seen on the small screen, Lorre made the occasional appearance on the silver one in films such as Beat the Devil, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. By the end of the decade much of Lorre's work amounted rent-paying gigs, although he did prove he still had some of the manic energy from yesteryear with the musical comedy Silk Stockings, in which he plays a singing/dancing Soviet Commissar.
At the start of new decade, Lorre was given somewhat of a career boost thanks to low-budget producer Roger Corman. He played upon Lorre's well-established sinister onscreen personal with films such as Tales of Terror, The Cask of Amontillado and The Raven. In 1964 Lorre gave his final performance in the Jerry Lewis vehicle The Patsy. Already facing ill health due to years of morphine addicting, Lorre would not act again for the camera. Peter Lorre died of a stroke on March 23rd, 1964. He was 59 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
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Month Quick Picks and PansBy Barry P. on May 31, 2023 From Cinematic Catharsis
Crime and Punishment (1935) stars as Roderick Raskolnikov, an astute student of the criminal mind, in Josef von Sternberg’s adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic novel. Roderick doesn’t quite live up to his promise after graduating college, falling upon hard times. ... Read full article
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An Iconic Pair: Sydney Greenstreet and Sydney Greenstreet made his Feature Film Debut in 1941 at the age of 62 as “Fat Man” Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon.?The film also featured , as the shady Joel Cairo, and of course Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade... Read full article
By Theresa Brown on Nov 21, 2015 From CineMaven's Essays from the Couch
The ?What A Character!? Blogathon is here and hosted by three blogging hostesses with the mostesses: Aurora at ?Once Upon a Screen? Kellee with ?Outspoken and Freckled? and Paula of ?Paula?s Cinema Club? and they’ve taken on this blogathon for its fourth year with a wide array of bloggers weig... Read full article
The Great Villain Blogathon: ’s Dr. Gogol in Mad Love (1935)By Amy on Aug 29, 2015 From Random Pictures
Like most movie watchers of my generation, I probably first saw the actual in?Casablanca?(1942). He doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he’s hard to forget. My first exposure to , however, and perhaps also like a lot of folks my generation, was through the glory... Read full article
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Jane: No, who?
The Stranger: Don't you know? The people who lock you up.
Jane: Why do they want to lock you up?
The Stranger: [Matter-of-factly] Oh, so they can hurt me. They put you in a shirt with long sleeves, and they pour ice water on you.
Kentaro Moto: There is no situation that science and skill cannot master.
Baron Ikito: Occidental decay is nowhere more apparent than in that childish sentimentality of white men for their women.
read more quotes from Peter Lorre...