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 weighing in on some of the great character actors of classic film. Click on this banner to see this year’s crop.
Me? I’m joining them in the sandbox by writing about PETER LORRE:
He’s been covered by this “…Character” blogathon before…2013 & 2014:
…and you can hear his name in this 1970’s song within the first minute and a half:
As a good card-carrying classic film buff, I’ve known of Lorre all through my classic film obsession. I hadn’t really paid attention to him. He was a means to an end to our more handsome and heroic heroes and heroines. He pushed my button with his Over-The-Top-Scenery-Chewing; you know, within 20-seconds flat of seeing him, the ewwww-creep out factor’d kick in. He’s the fall guy…the quivering coward you want to beat over the head with Elisha Cook Jr. But there are none so blind as those who cannot see. Uhhhh…that would be me. Cat-eye glasses…the better to see talent with, my pretties.
I saw something while watching “The Beast With Five Fingers.” ( I confess, I confused it with “The Five Thousand Fingers Of Dr. T” ). Initially I wasn’t really feeling “…Five Fingers.” The leads weren’t compelling for me ( though very attractive ) and the movie seemed a bit like the uninvited-hold-that-ghost-dark-&-stormy-night-spook house tale. ( HEY ABBOTTTT!! ) When I saw the disembodied hand come out of the box like Thing in “The Addams Family” and reach for its ring, I was like “what the h….!!!!”
Things were looking up! But I also caught Peter Lorre from the corner of my eye.
From the corner of my eye? Yeh. Some faint 30-watt light-bulb went on in ye olde noggin’. Watching him in “…Five Fingers” my focus suddenly turned entirely to him. He could have been Ingrid Bergman in “Gaslight” for all the terror and turmoil he displays that no one else sees. He was convinced about this hand. And in turn, convinced me. In “…Five Fingers” when he was bugging out because of the hand, you knew he was cracked the instant you saw him. Then I found myself looking forward to seeing him a little later in “Mad Love.” ( It was some back-to-back-to-back mini-fest TCM was having about killer hands ). I cannot speak to anything specific that caught my eye in these two movies. Isn’t it enough then came the dawn, and I felt an involuntary overwhelming respect for this actor? It slowly “dawned” on me what I was seeing in these two films and, in fact, in all of the films I’ve seen him in.
What I finally realized I was seeing, was Peter Lorre’s Commitment to Acting. Ha! I sound nutsy, right? After all, COMMITMENT is an intangible, unconcrete thing. But I felt it. This little guy with the bugged out eyes and “funny” accent who looks cherubic at times and demented at others, commits to what his character is going through.
When I look at that rogue’s gallery of Lorre characters above, I see a tortured man. A man tortured by love, greed; he suffers from pecadilloes he tries to control, but can’t. He wants too much and loves much too much. He has a need to succeed.
In “Mad Love” he sits in the theatre balcony, the camera slowly dollies towards him as he watches Frances Drake tortured onstage. Yeah, you know he’s a goner…a man in love. In pursuing her, he just wouldn’t…couldn’t take “NO” for an answer from the raven-haired Drake. Her being married and in love with her husband ( Colin Clive ) does not stop Lorre from
loving obsessing over her. Lorre plays a doctor who, had he stayed on the sane and Hippocratic path, could make great contributions to medicine; help a lot of people. ( I loved seeing Keye Luke as the doctor’s assistant. Hey, any chance to see Keye Luke in the 40’s is a thrill for me. Represent, my Asian brother! ) But Lorre plays a man gone mad knowing he could never HAVE that love reciprocated. I watch Lorre commit whole hog to this role; he absolutely relishes the torment. Tell me he didn’t enjoy having Dr. Gogol dress up in that macabre contraption, strapped, bound and corsetted rivaling Hannibal Lecter, Pin Head or any of today’s horror fiends:
While this discovery was dawning on me, I kind of felt a tad bit like a peeping Tom witnessing the abandon Lorre commits to both roles. Coming up those stairs in “Mad Love” wearing that crazy neck brace, laughing maniacally, on a movieset full of cast, crew and cockatoo, he plays with such controlled abandon, he seems lost in his characters’ reverie of orgasmic self-torture. Lorre simultaneously fills me with revulsion and sympathy and I can’t say that about many other actors; maybe not any other actor. How does he do that?
We all know “M” and “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon” but I especially like Peter Lorre in the lesser-known, quieter “The Face Behind the Mask”. An immigrant, happy to make a new life here in America, he’s in an accident that leaves him horribly burned. He can’t get a good job so he wears a mask, goes gangster, finds love with a pretty blind girl ( Evelyn Keyes ) and wreaks justified vengeance on the bad guys. I liked Don Beddoe as Lorre’s one and only true friend in this movie. ( Read about Beddoe here in last year’s character blogathon ). I liked Lorre in “The Face Behind the Mask” – loving, poignant, damaged.
Please give “The Face Behind the Mask” a look-see. It’s a good one:
I am a recent convert to the charms and brilliance that is Peter Lorre even though I’ve seen him since I was a kid. I don’t presume to know ANYthing about his acting process, but I can envision he enjoyed the parts he played; picked and chose them even….wondered what he could explore or exploit THIS time around with his character. I think he purposely, purposefully knew how to ratchet up and dial down what would make us sympathize or vilify his character. Sometimes he’s in and out of a picture quickly – unsaddled with the burden of carrying Jack Warner’s box office dreams to the bank – being a character whose plot point gets things percolating; able to think how he could create a world for this character in a short amount of screen time. I really now enjoy Peter Lorre and look forward to what he’s going to do in a movie. You can check the BFI for their ten-favorite Peter Lorre movie performances here. My card-carrying membership in the classic film club is an ongoing learning process. And helping that along is reading what others have to say. So do click below and find a directory of character actors for the 2015 WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon. Paula’s Cinema Club handles Day 1, Once Upon A Screen showcases Day 2 and Outspoken and Freckled features entries from Day 3 of their fourth annual blogathon. Also, you can go here for 2012, 2013 and 2014. Enjoy!
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