Mostly Credited As: Peter Lorre (1)
Birth Name: László Löwenstein
Date Of Birth: June 26, 1904 (Age 59)
Country Of Birth: Slovakia (Slovak Republic)
Birth Place: Rózsahegy, Austria-Hungary [Ruzomberok, Slovakia]
Date Of Death: March 23, 1964
Cause Of Death: Stroke (Los Angeles, California)
Height: 5' 5" (1.65 m)
Few screen actors have ever had as powerful a first film as Peter Lorre's M (1931), made in Germany by Fritz Lang. He is positively mesmerizing as the pathetic child murderer, delivering an unforgettable performance that made him an internationally recognized personality if not a major star. He was a peculiar little man, almost gnomelike, with moon face, bulging eyes, and gapped teeth, and as good a character actor as ever worked in Hollywood. He fled Germany in the early 1930s, appearing in both British and American films, including two directed by Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Secret Agent (1936).
With his florid portrayal of a mad doctor in the Grand Guignol-like Mad Love (1935), Lorre took Hollywood-then in the midst of its first talkie horror cycle-by storm. That same year he played Raskolnikov in von Sternberg's uneven Crime and Punishment-and he was off and running. At 20th Century-Fox, Lorre was cast as Japanese sleuth Mr. Moto in eight B films made from 1937 to 1939, of which Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937) was the best. He also had memorable roles in bottom-of-the-bill pictures, some of which were little gems: 1940's The Stranger on the Third Floor for example, was an excellent short thriller with more than a touch of German Expressionism in its visual style. But Lorre's real breakthrough with American audiences came with his oily performance as sinister but fastidious Joel Cairo in John Huston's adaptation of The Maltese Falcon (1941). (He shared other memorable moments with Falcon star Humphrey Bogart in 1942's Casablanca
Lorre and Falcon menace Sydney Greenstreet were seen as a great screen team, and they subsequently appeared together in several films such as 1944's The Mask of Dimitrios and 1946's The Verdict and Three Strangers (He became, during this period, arguably the most mimicked and caricatured actor in movies.) As his career in character roles progressed, he began to show his comic talents more, sending up his sinister persona in the likes of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and My Favorite Brunette (1947). And he was a droll delight in Huston's parodic Beat the Devil (1954). In 1951 he returned to Germany to write, direct, and act in the rarely seen but highly regarded Die Verlorene (The Lost One a drama of betrayal set in World War 2. Lorre aged poorly during the 1950s; he grew puffy and tiredlooking, and he seemed increasingly to be walking through films such as Congo Crossing (1956) and The Big Circus (1959). A frequent television guest star (whose credits ranged from a live dramatic production of Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale" in 1954 to a famous "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode opposite Steve McQueen), he rounded out his film career teamed with Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in both The Raven (1963) and The Comedy of Terrors (1964), in which he was very funny indeed. In fact, his performance as the half-man, halfraven endeared Lorre to a whole new generation of fans.
OTHER FILMS INCLUDE: 1937: Lancer Spy 1941: The Face Behind the Mask 1942: The Boogie Man Will Get You 1943: Background to Danger 1944: Passage to Marseille 1945: Confidential Agent 1946: Black Angel, The Beast With Five Fingers 1948: Casbah 1954: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1956: Around the World in Eighty Days 1957: Silk Stockings 1961: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1964: The Patsy (his last).
Copyright © 1994 Leonard Maltin