Peter Lorre


Actor
Peter Lorre

About

Also Known As
Ladislav Loewenstein
Birth Place
Hungary
Born
June 26, 1904
Died
March 23, 1964
Cause of Death
Stroke

Biography

A product of Berlin's post World War I experimental theatre scene, Peter Lorre honed his craft in plays by Shakespeare, Goethe and Shaw, but achieved international fame as a child killer in Fritz Lang's incendiary "M" (1931). After making his English language debut for Alfred Hitchcock in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934), Lorre was lured to Hollywood with the promise of a studio contra...

Photos & Videos

Stranger on the Third Floor - Lobby Card
Mad Love - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Mad Love - Lobby Cards

Biography

A product of Berlin's post World War I experimental theatre scene, Peter Lorre honed his craft in plays by Shakespeare, Goethe and Shaw, but achieved international fame as a child killer in Fritz Lang's incendiary "M" (1931). After making his English language debut for Alfred Hitchcock in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934), Lorre was lured to Hollywood with the promise of a studio contract. Warehoused for a year by Columbia Pictures, Lorre was loaned out to play more maniacs in "Mad Love" (1935) and "Stranger on the Third Floor" (1940). Against the better judgment of the Warner Brothers front office, first time filmmaker John Huston took a chance on Lorre by casting him as the villainous Joel Cairo to Humphrey Bogart's steely shamus Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941). Lorre and Bogart became frequent co-stars in such World War II era fare as "Across the Pacific" (1941), "Casablanca" (1942) and "Passage to Marseilles" (1944). Despite playing the occasional heroic role, Lorre remained typecast as misfits and miscreants. Plagued by ill health and drug addiction, Lorre capped his career with a run of tongue-in-cheek horror films, including "The Raven" (1963) and "Comedy of Terrors" (1963) with horror kings Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Dead at 59, Lorre's legacy survived him, due to his roles in iconic Bogart films and the devotion of horror film fans who echoed the late actor's designation as The Lord High Minister of All That is Sinister.

Peter Lorre was born László Löwenstein in the town of Rózsahegy in northern Hungary on June 26, 1904. Lorre's father, Alajos Löwenstein, was the bookkeeper for a textile company and a reserve officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In 1908, Lorre's mother died of blood poisoning. Alienated by his father's second marriage, Lorre developed into a withdrawn child, even as the family relocated several times due to his father's business ambitions and his military service. Lorre acted for the first time in a school production of "Snow White," playing one of the dwarfs. While in middle school, he was chosen to appear in an evening of one-act plays staged at the Vienna Kammerspiele, after which he expressed to his disapproving father his desire to become an actor. After obtaining a business degree, Lorre worked briefly as a bank teller. Prone to tardiness, he allowed himself to be fired so that he could pursue acting full-time. With Vienna's economy in ruins after the First World War, Lorre lived an itinerant life, sleeping on park benches. Unable to pay for theatre, he worked as an unpaid audience extra, clapping on cue. Theatrical impresario Jacob Moreno invited Lorre to join his experimental theatre troupe and provided him with the stage name he would carry through life: "Peter" from the late poet Peter Altenberg and "Lorre" from the German word for parrot.

Honing his craft in Breslau and Zurich in Switzerland, Lorre headed to Berlin in 1927. During this time, he underwent surgery for a burst appendix. When complications arose, revision surgery was performed and Lorre was prescribed morphine for pain. This led to a lifetime addiction to narcotics for the actor, who borrowed increasing amounts of money to pay for his habit while even resorting to forging prescriptions. In 1929, playwright-theatre director Bertolt Brecht cast Lorre in productions of "Happy End" and "Man Equals Man." He made his film debut in "Die verschwundene Frau" ("The Missing Wife") (1929), one of the last silent films made in Austria. Lorre kept his participation in the film a secret, preferring to let the official record show that he made his cinema debut for director Fritz Lang in "M" (1931). Inspired by the crimes of German serial killer Peter Kürten, Lang cast Lorre as Hans Beckert, a man compelled to abduct and murder young children. Only weeks after the film's premiere, Kürten was executed by guillotine while Lorre became an international celebrity, admired at home by Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and abroad by silent film star Charlie Chaplin. Though he would play comical and even heroic roles throughout his career, Lorre was largely associated with horrific and supernatural themes for the rest of his life. With the rise of the Third Reich, Lorre joined the first wave of Jews fleeing Europe in 1933. With his fiancée, actress Celia Lovsky, Lorre traveled to Czechoslovakia and then on to France. In Paris, the actor received an invitation from England to appear in a film being produced by the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation.

Hitchcock cast Lorre in the role of a scar-faced political assassin in the classic "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934). Not yet able to speak English, Lorre learned his lines phonetically. Taking a break from shooting that summer, Lorre married Lovsky in a civil ceremony, having arrived at Westminster's General Register's Office wearing his ghoulish make-up. Featured prominently in posters for "The Man Who Knew Too Much," Lorre drew rave reviews and received an invitation from Hollywood. Armed with the promise of a contract from Columbia Pictures, Lorre sailed to America but had to wait for a year before he was cast in an American film. Unsure of what to do with his latest acquisition, Columbia head Harry Cohn eventually loaned Lorre to MGM for "Mad Love" (1935). Sporting a bald pate that made his naturally wide eyes seem ready to pop from his skull, Lorre delivered an immortal performance as the obsessive Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon unhinged by his love for another man's wife. Lorre agreed to the loan-out on condition that Columbia foot the bill for an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, to star himself and to be directed by Josef von Sternberg. Cohn kept his word, but the film was both a box office and critical failure.

Lorre rebounded by returning to England to work for Hitchcock again, playing another assassin in "Secret Agent" (1936). At Twentieth Century Fox, Lorre stepped into the role of a cunning Japanese crime fighter in a series of whodunits beginning with "Think Fast, Mr. Moto" (1937) and ending after eight installments in 1939. At MGM, Lorre appeared with Joan Crawford and Clark Cable in Frank Borzage's South Seas melodrama "Strange Cargo" (1940). Though he had turned down the lead in "Son of Frankenstein" (1939) because he wanted to distance himself from menacing roles, Lorre was back in form for the eerie "Stranger on the Third Floor" (1940) and "The Face Behind the Mask" (1940), appearing in the latter as a gentle immigrant who turns to crime after being disfigured in a boarding house fire. At Warner Brothers, Lorre was cast as the flamboyantly gay criminal Joel Cairo in John Huston's "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), opposite Mary Astor and Lorre's soon-to-be frequent co-stars, Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet. Though a proposed sequel to the hit film never got off the ground, Bogart and Lorre were reteamed in Vincent Sherman's "All Through the Night" (1941) and again, with Greenstreet, in Michael Curtiz's "Casablanca" (1942). Though Lorre's role was small and his character killed offscreen well before the film's midpoint, the success of "Casablanca" was greatly enhanced by his sweaty portrayal of the cut-rate underworld parasite Ugarte. By this time, Lorre had become such a popular cultural touchstone that his appearance was parodied in Loony Tunes shorts and his voice mimicked by Paul Frees in Spike Jones' novelty cover of "My Old Flame." Lorre worked with Bogart and Greenstreet again in the wartime adventure "Passage to Marseilles" (1944) and was paired with Greenstreet in atypically heroic roles in "The Mask of Dimitrios" (1944) and "The Verdict" (1946).

Lorre returned to villainous form in the classic noir "Black Angel" (1946) and in the psychological horror film "The Beast with Five Fingers" (1946), directed by Robert Florey. He had by this time separated from Lovsky, though the two would remain friends throughout the rest of his life. Lorre's second wife was German actress Kaaren Verne, but the union lasted only five years. Lorre scored a rare shot at a comedy with the Bob Hope vehicle "My Favorite Brunette" (1947) before he returned to Germany to direct and star in "Der Verlorene" (The Lost One") (1951), as a vivisectionist who murders his unfaithful wife and spirals into homicidal mania. Twenty years after "M" and too close to Germany's defeat in World War II, the film was unsuccessful. To the delight of fans, John Huston reunited Lorre with Bogart in "Beat the Devil" (1953), filmed in Italy and the United Kingdom. That year, Lorre married for the third time and fathered a daughter. In 1954, he played the first Bond villain in a TV production of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, adapted for the CBS anthology series "Climax!" (1954-58).

With the bulk of his assignments amounting to little more than rent-paying gigs during this period, Lorre did enjoy his role as a singing and dancing Soviet commissar in MGM's Technicolor musical "Silk Stockings" (1957) opposite Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman revived Lorre's career by casting him in the omnibus thriller "Tales of Terror" (1962), in a blackly humorous retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado co-starring Vincent Price. Corman would use Lorre and Price again in "The Raven" (1963), co-starring Boris Karloff, while Jacques Tourneur would reunite the three for "Comedy of Terrors" (1963) as unscrupulous morticians who resort to murder when their business takes a dive. Dubbed by magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman as "The Lord High Minister of All That Is Sinister," Lorre made his final film appearance in "The Patsy"(1964), starring Jerry Lewis. Separated from his third wife and in poor health, Lorre suffered a fatal stroke in a rented apartment on Hollywood Boulevard on March 23, 1964, at the age of 59.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Der Verlorene (1951)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Muscle Beach Party (1964)
Mr. Strangdour
The Patsy (1964)
Morgan Heywood
The Raven (1963)
Dr. Adolphus Bedlo
The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Felix Gillie
Tales of Terror (1962)
Montresor
Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)
Ahmed
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Commodore Lucius Emery
Scent of Mystery (1960)
Smiley
The Big Circus (1959)
Skeeter
The Buster Keaton Story (1957)
Kurt Bergner
The Sad Sack (1957)
Abdul
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Nero
Silk Stockings (1957)
Brankov
Hell Ship Mutiny (1957)
Commissioner Lamoret
Congo Crossing (1956)
Colonel [John Miguel Orlando] Arragas
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
Impatient player
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
S.S. Carnatic steward
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Conseil
Beat the Devil (1954)
Julius O'Hara
Der Verlorene (1951)
Dr Karl Rothe
Quicksand (1950)
Nick
Double Confession (1950)
Rope of Sand (1949)
Toady
Casbah (1948)
Slimane
The Beast with Five Fingers (1947)
Hilary Cummins
My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Kismet
The Chase (1946)
Gino
The Verdict (1946)
Victor Emmric
Three Strangers (1946)
John West
Black Angel (1946)
Marko
Confidential Agent (1945)
Contreras
Hotel Berlin (1945)
Johannes Koenig
Passage to Marseille (1944)
Marius
The Cross of Lorraine (1944)
Sergeant Berger
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Dr. Einstein
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Cornelius Leyden
The Conspirators (1944)
Jan Bernassky
Hollywood Canteen (1944)
The Constant Nymph (1943)
Fritz Bercovy
Background to Danger (1943)
Nicolai Zaleshoff
Casablanca (1942)
Ugarte
All Through the Night (1942)
Pepi
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
Dr. Arthur Lorentz
The Invisible Agent (1942)
Baron Ikito
The Face Behind the Mask (1941)
Janos Szabo
Mr. District Attorney (1941)
Mr. Hyde
They Met in Bombay (1941)
Captain Chang
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Joel Cairo
You'll Find Out (1940)
[Professor Carl] Fenniger
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
The stranger
Island of Doomed Men (1940)
Stephen Danel
Strange Cargo (1940)
M'sieu Pig
I Was an Adventuress (1940)
Polo
Mr. Moto in Danger Island (1939)
Mr. Moto
Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)
Mr. Moto
Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939)
Mr. Moto
Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)
Mr. Moto
Mr. Moto Takes a Chance (1938)
Mr. [K.] Moto
Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938)
Mr. [Kentaro] Moto
I'll Give a Million (1938)
Louie
Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)
Mr. Moto
Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937)
Mr. [Kentaro] Moto
Crack-Up (1937)
Colonel Gimpy [also known as Baron Rudolph Maximilian Tagger]
Nancy Steele Is Missing! (1937)
Professor Sturm
Lancer Spy (1937)
Major Sigfried Gruning
Secret Agent (1936)
The General
Crime and Punishment (1935)
Roderick Raskolnikov
Mad Love (1935)
Doctor Gogol
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935)
Abbott
Was Frauen traumen (1933)
Du haut en bas (1933)
Beggar
Schuss im Morgengrauen (1932)
F.P.1 antwortet nicht (1932)
Die Koffer des Herrn O.F. (1931)
M (1930)
Hans Beckert

Writer (Feature Film)

Der Verlorene (1951)
Screenwriter

Cast (Special)

Reunion in Vienna (1955)
Poffy
Casino Royale (1954)

Life Events

Photo Collections

Stranger on the Third Floor - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from RKO's Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), starring Peter Lorre. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Mad Love - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Mad Love - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Mad Love - Lobby Cards
Mad Love - Lobby Cards
Arsenic and Old Lace - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, and Raymond Massey.
Crime and Punishment (1935) - Peter Lorre Publicity Stills
Crime and Punishment (1935) - Peter Lorre Publicity Stills
Quicksand - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release movie posters for United Artists' Quicksand (1950), starring Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, and Peter Lorre.
All Through the Night - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Warner Bros' All Through the Night (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, and Jane Darwell.
Thank You, Mr. Moto - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from Fox's Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937), starring Peter Lorre. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Peter Lorre - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills of actor Peter Lorre.
Maltese Falcon - Scene Stills
Here is a group of film stills from The Maltese Falcon (1941), starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.

Videos

Movie Clip

Maltese Falcon, The (1941) - Such A Considerable Expense Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in his first meeting with perfumed and mysterious Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), inquiring about a bird, in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, 1941, from the Dashiell Hammett novel.
Casablanca (1942) - Letters Of Transit Introduction of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) at his Cafe` Americain, dismissing a smarmy German (Gregory Gaye), receiving sneaky Ugarte (Peter Lorre) introducing a key plot point, Dan Seymour the doorman, in Michael Curtiz's Casablanca, 1942.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) - Whale Of A Tale Kirk Douglas (as harpoon expert Ned Land) offers a jaunty rendition of "Whale of a Tale" by Al Hoffman and Norm Gimbel, immediately followed by an emergency at sea, in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954.
You'll Find Out (1940) - College Of Musical Knowledge Introductory schtick after a couple of staged scenes with radio listeners, RKO contract players Jeff Corey and Eleanor Lawson are the contestants as bandleader Kay Kyser does his bit based on the NBC radio hit, in the comedy-musical-horror-hybrid vehicle You'll Find Out, 1940, with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre.
You'll Find Out (1940) - The Spirits Are Strongly Displeased Horror cameos and lingerie, Bela Lugosi with no prologue appears in the guest room of band leader and star Kay Kyser, then Peter Lorre lurks as New York society hostess Janis (Helen Parrish) and singer Ginny Simms take turns being disrobed, in the musical-horror-comedy You’ll Find Out, 1940.
Strange Cargo (1940) - You Didn't See That Saloon girl Julie (Joan Crawford), kicked off the prison island, again rejects "Pig" (Peter Lorre) but not Marfeu (Bernard Nedell), as Moll (Albert Dekker) clobbers Verne (Clark Gable) and threatens Cambreau (Ian Hunter), staging the big escape, in Frank Borzage's Strange Cargo, 1940.
Strange Cargo (1940) - Go Away Pig Joining the first scene for Joan Crawford (as entertainer "Julie"), she rejects hustler Peter Lorre (his character really is named "Pig"), then has trouble with laborer-convict Verne (Clark Gable), working the wharf at a French penal colony in Guiana, in Frank Borzage's Strange Cargo, 1940.
Background To Danger (1943) - An American Word? Nicolai (Peter Lorre), with his more fetching sister Tamara (Brenda Marshall), first secretly dispatches Ivor (Daniel Ocko), then reveals to American Joe (George Raft) why he rescued him from a crew of bogus Turkish cops, in Background To Danger, 1943, from an Eric Ambler novel.
You'll Find Out (1940) - Mysterious Struggle Between Light And Shadow On a stormy evening after Kay Kyser’s gig at the pre-wedding party, singer Ginny Simms, manager/groom Chuck (Dennis O’Keefe) and his girlfriend, the hostess Janis (Helen Parrish) get a surprise from heretofore benevolent family friend judge Mainwaring (Boris Karloff) and unexpected professor Fenninger (Peter Lorre), in the horror-comedy You’ll Find Out, 1940.
Silk Stockings (1957) - Siberia Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse) delivers bad news to the commissars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) who launch into Cole Porter's "Siberia," in Silk Stockings, Rouben Mamoulian's 1957 musical remake of Ninotchka, 1939.
Face Behind The Mask, The (1941) - Don't Lose Your Passport Convincingly innocent and charming Hungarian-born Peter Lorre as Hungarian immigrant Szabo, first on the boat with a steward (David Oliver) then in New York eventually meeting plainclothes cop O’Hara (Don Beddoe), opening The Face Behind The Mask, 1941, directed by Robert Florey.
Face Behind The Mask, The (1941) - None Of Us Can Do Without Friends Immigrant Janos (Peter Lorre), suddenly rich after finding he’s a gifted thief, but raising mainly money for plastic surgery after being disfigured in a fire, receives his custom-made mask, with Dinky (George E. Stone), whose ex-boss (James Seay) soon appears, in The Face Behind The Mask, 1941.

Trailer

Comedy Of Terrors, The (1964) -- Original Trailer Perhaps candid but flattering to no one, from American Internatinal Pictures, the original trailer for the horror spoof The Comedy Of Terrors, 1964, with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and even Basil Rathbone!
Hollywood Canteen -- (Original Trailer) Half of Hollywood pitches in to help a serviceman and a starlet find love at the Hollywood Canteen (1944)
Maltese Falcon, The (1941) -- (Original Trailer) Humphrey Bogart plays Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941), possibly the greatest detective movie of all time.
Constant Nymph, The - (Original Trailer) A composer (Charles Boyer) marries a rich woman rather than her young cousin (Joan Fontaine) who loves him in The Constant Nymph (1943).
Background to Danger - (Original Trailer) George Raft falls headlong into espionage in wartime Turkey in Raoul Walsh's Background To Danger (1943).
Sad Sack, The - (Original Trailer) A hopelessly innocent private (Jerry Lewis) gets himself kidnapped in Morocco in The Sad Sack (1957).
Tales of Terror - (Original Trailer) Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone star in three of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Terror (1962).
Casablanca - (Original Trailer) An American saloon owner in North Africa is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up in Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart.
All Through the Night - (Original Trailer) A criminal gang turns patriotic to track down a Nazi spy ring in All Through the Night (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre.
Strange Cargo - (Original Trailer) Devil's Island prisoners are changed forever by a prisoner who thinks he's Jesus in Strange Cargo (1940) starring Clark Gable & Joan Crawford.
Silk Stockings - (Original Trailer) A straitlaced Soviet agent is seduced by the romantic allure of Paris in Silk Stockings (1957), starring Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse.
Mad Love - (Original Trailer) A mad doctor grafts the hands of a murderer on to a concert pianist's wrists in Mad Love (1935) starring Peter Lorre.

Bibliography