Born László Löwenstein in 1904 in what was then Rózsahegy, Hungary, versatile character actor Peter Lorre rose from humble beginnings to stand among the brightest lights of old Hollywood’s celebrity aristocracy! You need look no further than Mr. Lorre’s impressive IMDb page to appreciate the amazing accomplishments of his storied career.
Stephen D. Youngkin’s wonderful The Lost One : A Life Of Peter Lorre details the actor’s sometimes tumultuous professional and personal life. Typecast early as a brooding psychopath, Mr. Lorre played the effete criminal Joel Cairo in the film adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon. A year later, in 1942, he played a small, but important part as the thief Ugarte in the classic romance Casablanca. He did get to play the hero a few times, including opposite Sidney Greenstreet in the criminally under appreciated The Mask of Dimitrios, a 1944 film that the Carnegie Library system only has available on VHS at a couple of our suburban partner libraries. Tedd Sennet writes about this unlikely pair in his amazing book, Masters Of Menace : Greenstreet And Lorre.
Mr. Lorre died on March 24, 1964, and was by all accounts a kind and gentle man whose uneven career ultimately fell prey to his own success. We should remember him on his birthday as a diligent worker and a consummate professional. Now I think it’s time to watch the Maltese Falcon again!