The Bogart Film Affair Ep 4 – Peter Lorre

Pod PicDue to such high traffic on the site from Peter Lorre related searches, this week’s episode of The Bogart Film Affair podcast highlights the life and career of Peter Lorre and all five films he collaborated on with Bogart!

Check it out on iTunes here.

or

podomatic.com here!

Have a great week!

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Casablanca – 1942

Casablanca Poster

My Review

—Hollywood’s Greatest Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

An American expat (Bogart) running a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II is surprised when his ex (Ingrid Bergman) shows up, married to the leader (Pal Henried) of Europe’s underground resistance.

What I Thought

This is it. The absolute pinnacle of Bogart films as far as I’m concerned, which is why I saved it for last. This was the cherry on the top of a year-and-a-half of Bogart film viewing.

Sure, I’ve seen Casablanca so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was the first time that I’ve sat down with a more analytical eye. Knowing that I was going to do a write-up, I asked myself, Why is this film so perfect in my mind? Why was this the film that served as my gateway into classic cinema? Why is this film remembered by many, if not most casual film fans, as Bogart’s greatest role?

I think a majority of the credit has to go to Director Michael Curtiz. From beginning to end, the city of Casablanca feels like a fully realized world. The daytime scenes are crammed from one edge of the screen to other with bustling crowds filling city streets and diversely populated nightclub scenes. The city is supposed to be overflowing with people looking to escape the war and Director Curtiz nailed it. This film is bursting at the seams with background artists, minor roles cast to perfection, supporting roles with some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, and a handful of main characters that are handled deftly and given the time that they each need to establish their moments in the story.

Another huge chunk of credit goes to the twin Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, who adapted the play for the big screen. There are a lot of great stories about how the Epstein’s regarded this script as just another studio assignment, how they wrote and rewrote scenes the very day that they were needed, and how they never really thought much of the finished film. (Julius was quoted as saying it not nothing more than “slick shit.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.)

The script is filled with dozens upon dozens of quotable lines. Yet at the same time, it was just incomplete and loose enough that the actors were able to fill in their own memorable moments when needed. Bogart reportedly supplied the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and it was producer Hal Wallis who supposedly came up with, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” and had it dubbed in after shooting was complete.

“Are my eyes really brown?”

“Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”

“I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“Such watch?”

These are just a few of the lines that I try very hard to work into my daily conversations and I hope that the comments section of this post is LOADED with all the quotes that I didn’t mention.

But back to Director Curtiz. What strikes me as most interesting is that this was one of seven film collaborations that he had with Bogart. Curtiz worked on a limited number of scenes for both Black Legion and Marked Woman, and directed Kid Galahad, Angels with Dirty Faces, Virginia City, Passage to Marseille, and We’re No Angels. Some of those other collaborations are good. A few I would even consider to be great. But in my mind, none come close to Casablanca’s perfection.

The Bogart Factor

After so many viewings, this was the very first time that I’ve ever really noticed how the entire span of Bogart’s career seems to be contained within nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Since this was the last film in my Bogart journey, it probably helps that I’ve now sat through all of his other work from the beginning, no matter how small a part it might have been.

Especially during the flashbacks of France, we see an energetic, ever-so-slightly goofy and naïve character much like the ones Bogart played in Up the River, Love Affair, and Men Are Such Fools. It’s just enough “aw shucks” shoulder shrugging that I was really reminded of how wide Bogart’s range could be when we transition back to the darkened bar where he’s drinking away his memories of Ilsa and Paris.

There in the bar, we have the much more tightly wound, much angrier, much more depressed man who shows up in many of Bogart’s gangster roles, but perhaps especially films like San Quentin, Dead End, or The Petrified Forest. Films where Bogart seems to spend most of his time reflecting on how poorly his life has turned out and how desperately he wishes to move past his resentment and remorse.

And yet, at the core of Rick Blaine is the confident, loyal, trustworthy, stand-up man who will always end up doing the right thing, even if he tries to convince you that he sticks his neck out for no one! This is the type of character that we see Bogart playing later in his career – the Sam Spade’s, Rick Leland’s, and the majority of brooding expatriates that stick their necks out for everybody that filled Bogart’s filmography for the next ten plus years.

A white tuxedo. A trench coat and fedora. Cigarettes. Booze. A shady past. A mysterious woman. A broken heart. A pistol. These are the very things that Bogart helped define as icons of Classic Hollywood cinema and they’re all on display here in Casablanca. Of all his films, this is the one that I come back to again and again when I need a full and complete Bogart fix. I’ve found many other films where his performances might be more nuanced – more well-rounded – but this is definitively and understandably the role that establishes him as Hollywood’s greatest leading man.

The Cast

Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa Lund, Bogart’s ex and the current wife of the underground resistance leader Victor Laszlo. I can’t say enough good things about Bergman here, as this is her essential performance as far as I’m concerned. I know it doesn’t have as much depth as a few of her other high profile roles, but doggone it if I still don’t know whether or not she was really ready to leave Laszlo for Blaine at the end of the film. That nighttime scene in the bar just after Rick’s first flashback . . . drunk Bogart . . . forlorned Bergman . . . so good.

Dooley Wilson plays the piano playing singer at Rick’s Café Américain, Sam. What an incredible job Wilson does here playing the greatest wingman any guy could ever hope for. It was only after viewing the film for the umpteenth time that I realized Wilson’s fingers are in no-way-shape-or-form playing that piano believably, yet it took me forever to notice because I can’t take my eyes off of his face and my ears away from his voice. The guy was a natural, and in my dream of dreams I would go through Wilson’s entire filmography just to see if he did anything else that was as close to great as his performance in Casablanca. (Did I JUST read on imdb that he’s an uncredited piano player in Knock on Any Door?!? I will see if this is true TONIGHT!) *It is 100% true! Just after the 47 minute mark, there he is playing piano and accepting a beer!!! – 8/14/14 BFB*

Paul Henreid plays the battle weary and aged-beyond-his-years resistance leader, Victor Laszlo. According to Hollywood lore, Henreid almost didn’t take the role because he wasn’t the lead and he was afraid that it would set him back in his career. Thank goodness he accepted the part, because so much of the film’s gravitas depends heavily on us not hating Laszlo even though he’s standing in Rick Blaine’s way to Ilsa. To be fair to his initial instincts, Henreid isn’t remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, but I don’t think that’s any fault of his supporting role in this film. He’s a great actor and very handsome, but just didn’t have that uber-unique look or acting style that let him break into the upper echelon of Hollywood’s greatest legends.

Claude Rains wonderfully plays Bogart’s friend and sometime foil, Captain Louis Renault. What a testament to Rains’ talent that he can commit completely despicable deeds one moment, and have us laughing with joy the next. Rains was an insanely talented supporting actor, and I can never get enough of his work. I can’t be the only one who wants to see just a few minutes of Renault and Blaine’s post-Casablanca adventure together! Can you imagine these two guys fighting, drinking, joking, cajoling, and swindling their way through German troops as they work for the French resistance?

Conrad Veidt plays Major Heinrich Strasser, the head Nazi in charge of catching Victor Laszlo and making sure that he spends the rest of his life in a concentration camp, or dead. It’s not a huge role for Veidt, as he’s mainly used as an imposing villain to move the plot along, but as with the rest of the roles in the film, this one’s cast very well.

Sidney Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Rick Blaine’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Until this viewing, I never stopped to consider how cordial Ferrari and Blaine are when they’re together. I think these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film. That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game.

Peter Lorre plays the black market dealer Ugarte. How fantastic is this guy that he could make such a memorable contribution to this film with such a small part? I’m seriously shocked again and again as I watch this film and realize that he’s only in a hand full of scenes, yet his role looms very large over the legend and mythos of Casablanca.

S. Z. Sakall plays Carl, the host/waiter in Rick’s café. A wonderful, lovable, solid, hilarious, and incredibly talented supporting actor. The scene where he watches Rick help the young couple win at roulette is enough to make you want to hug him.

There’s Bogie Film Blog favorite Dan Seymour playing Abdul the doorman! He very few lines here in this tiny role, but he is namechecked by Rick!

And there are TONS of other supporting actors who deserve a mention, but I gotta stop somewhere!

Classic Bogie Moment

How? HOW do I pick here?!? There is too, too, too much to choose from. Trench coat and fedora? White tux? A pic with Lorre? One with Greenstreet? I gotta go with this one, because Dooley Wilson just doesn’t get enough love on this blog:

Casablanca classic

The Bottom Line

I came home from high school one afternoon and my mom was just at the beginning of this film. I’d never sat through an entire classic film before, but decided to give it a try. I’ve never looked back. After 465 days and 115 posts of my own personal nonstop Bogart movie marathon, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Bogart in a much greater capacity, but Classic Hollywood, and film as a whole.

Long live the legacy of Humphrey Bogart.

The Screen Guild Theater Presents: The Maltese Falcon – 1943

SGT Maltese Falcon

My Review

—A Poor Adaption Leads to a Decent Climax—

Radio Fixes 2 out of 5 radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

For my Maltese Falcon synopsis, you can read my original write up on the film here. And if you really want to try and follow the plot in this heavily condensed radio version of the story, you’d better watch the film first, or you’ll be lost!

What I Thought

I was really looking forward to listening to this broadcast after writing up the 1946 Academy Award Theater Presents: The Maltese Falcon last week. I mean, this version had to be better, right? It’s adds Peter Lorre into the mix, reprising his role as Joel Cairo! While the still unknown radio player that portrayed Cairo in last week’s version was good, no one can stand alongside of Lorre and look good, right?

Hmmm.

This broadcast was a bit of a mess. Lorre was not only hardly used, but his best scene from the film, the one where they first meet and Lorre wants to search Bogart’s office, isn’t even in the broadcast! It’s completely cut out and only briefly referenced when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy that he knows Cairo. Ugh. Lorre was right there! That would have been some easy magic to recreate!

The other big change from the show that I reviewed last week is that this version of the script uses a radio announcer to narrate the story rather than Sam Spade himself. This means that there’s much less Bogart. For some reason, it also means that any action from first ¾ of the story is summed up in the narration rather than heard, as the broadcast steamrolls past any actual plot to get us to the very well written final scene between Spade, O’Shaughnessy, Kaspar Gutman, and Joel Cairo. If you can make it through the first 20 minutes of bland dialogue, that final scene is worth a listen, but if I were you, I’d skip right to it.

In an interesting twist on the 1941 film, one of the four main characters ends up dead at the end of this version. Even considering that interesting changeup, the script still holds true to its lackluster form and we don’t actually get to ‘witness’ it happen . . .

The Bogart Factor

To be honest, I actually enjoyed this version of Bogart’s performance better. He seems to have slipped into character a little bit more and he doesn’t sound like he’s reading his lines quite as much as he does in the later 1946 version. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough script coherence or decent direction for me to recommend this show fully. This one’s just for Bogart completists.

The Cast

Mary Astor reprises her role from the film as the femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Unlike the 1946 radio version, Astor seems much less interested in performing here and if I hadn’t been told that it was Astor, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. She’s not bad, but compared to the film and the 1946 radio broadcast, she just seems flat.

Sydney Greenstreet reprises the role of Kaspar Gutman, the “fat man” who’s chasing the bird around the world. Even in the last scene where it seems that the reins are finally taken off of the actors, his performance seems caged compared to the 1946 version. The laugh is there, but little else. It’s not his fault though, the script just offers him nothing to work with.

In the biggest disappointment of all, Peter Lorre reprises his role as Joel Cairo, one of the criminals chasing after the bird, only to be relegated to the sidelines for the entire show. Although, saying that he’s “relegated to the sidelines” would be a generous metaphor to use, and I might better say that he’s more of a third string waterboy in the storyline as his part is miniscule and it doesn’t even sound like they let him stand near the microphone!

Classic Bogie Moment

He does his best, but all of the bite that Sam Spade has in the film is taken away when so much of his dialogue is spent recapping action instead of showing it. That being said, Bogart really does light up when he gets to bounce his performance off of Greenstreet, and with only a limited number of performances shared by the two greats, I’ll take what I can get. Bogart again gives 100% to this role, even if it is just a sad and condensed version of the classic film.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve got nothing else to listen to in the car, go for it. I might make it sound a little worse than it is, but the 1946 version is definitely a step up!

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

The Maltese Falcon Poster

My Review

—Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Astor, Huston – ‘Nuff Said—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

A private detective (Humphrey Bogart) tries to unravel the mystery behind a priceless statue after a beautiful woman (Mary Astor) hires him for a case that leads to his partner’s (Jerome Cowan) death.

What I Thought

Writing something up for Bogart’s more obscure classics always seems like a breeze. Writing something for these iconic classics however . . . that’s always tough. So much has been written about The Maltese Falcon that it’s hard to know what I could ever add to the conversation.

Warner Brother’s originally assigned George Raft to the role of Sam Spade – not because they really wanted him for the role, but because they wanted Henry Fonda for another film and Fonda worked for Twentieth Century Fox. So follow this . . . Raft didn’t want to do The Maltese Falcon. He supposedly hated the script and didn’t want to work with first time director John Huston. (Huston didn’t want him either. Bogart was always Huston’s first choice.) So Warner Brothers, knowing that Raft would balk at Falcon, gave him the option of going on ‘suspension’ so that he could go over to Fox and Fonda could come over to Warner Brothers.

Raft in the Spade role would have been different. I don’t think it would have killed the film if the actor and the director could have put their personal differences aside and shot the movie as Huston wanted it, but it probably wouldn’t be the classic that it is today.

Looking back, Warner Brothers had all of the ingredients for a timeless classic. Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet. John Huston writing and directing. A film based on a famous novel that had never been filmed well in two prior attempts. But Bogart was an unproven draw. Lorre was still regarded as a foreign character actor that could do well, but was considered more of a novelty than anything else. And Greenstreet was making his film debut after years in the theater. For Warner Brothers, this was still gamble with a whole lot of unknown variables in the mix.

Look how well it paid off.

The legend of this film is so wide and so deep that when one of the falcons from the film came up for auction in November of 2014 it went for over 4 million dollars and the story was covered by all the major news outlets. (The only movie memorabilia item that I could find to have sold for more was one of James Bond’s Aston Martins which went for $4.1 million.) People love this film deeply.

A small cast of brilliant actors, tight directing with no wasted scenes, a faithful adaption from the novel that lifts moments directly from the book, and a hungry first-time director who happens to be a genius make The Maltese Falcon flawless in a lot of people’s eyes. I really can’t disagree. This is one of those films that could play on an endless loop in my house and I’d never get tired of it.

The Bogart Factor

I love watching The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep back to back. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are so similar and yet so different at the same time. Both are private eyes who let money lead them down some pretty dark paths, yet while Spade seems cynical and embittered by humanity, Marlowe is able to hold onto a more playful outlook on life, flirting and quipping his way through every situation without quite as much sarcasm dripping from every line.

Bogart had made a splash with High Sierra just months before The Maltese Falcon premiered, but this was definitely one of the first big films that showed Warner Brothers that Bogart’s name could really start to become a draw for fans. His B-movie career all but died after The Maltese Falcon won over audiences and his filmography quickly filled with some of Hollywood’s most beloved classic films.

Bogart’s interactions with Astor, Lorre, Greenstreet, and Elisha Cook Jr. show a man who seems in complete control of every emotion and physicality in an actor’s toolbox, and there’s a level of confidence on display that I don’t think Bogart hit so highly in any of his previous films.

The Cast

Mary Astor plays femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the woman who pulls Bogart into the danger and mystery surrounding the falcon statue. According to a few different bios and websites, Director Huston had Astor run around the set before takes in order to lend a constant, breathless quality to her performance. After re-watching this film for the umpteenth time, I have to say that it certainly seems to be true and it works well for her performance. I guess Astor had a bit of a reputation around Hollywood at the time for enjoying her time with lots of different men and that helped feed into the excitement of this film when it came out. While that aspect might be lost on modern day viewers, Astor is still amazing in the role – hitting all the right notes and keeping the audience’s sympathies despite a string of nonstop lies and manipulations.

Peter Lorre plays Joel Cairo, one of the criminals who’s been chasing around the world in order to lay hands on the statue. I can’t say enough good things about Lorre here. He looks to be in the best shape of his life. He plays a coward who’s able to muster some courage when there’s a gun in his hand, giving both an air of humor and danger to many scenes. His moments with Bogart and Greenstreet are all the more fun when you consider how much he thought of both men in real life. Strangely enough, I think that one of my favorite aspects about his performance might be his hair! It’s so wonderfully dark and curly and thick and slick looking! I’ve read a lot about what a ladies’ man Lorre was and this film is always the one that convinces me that all the stories could well be true!

Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut at 62 years old playing Kasper Gutman, the main goon who’s following the falcon around the globe. Every single scene Greenstreet’s in is pure joy. His laugh is amazing, his amusement over Bogart’s confusion is wonderful, and it’s a real shame that it took so long to get this man to the big screen. I’m incredibly jealous of all the audiences that got to see him on stage in England for years before coming to Hollywood as there hasn’t been a big-man actor with such a commanding presence onscreen since his last film over 60 years ago. By gad! The scene where he turns on Wilmer is so painfully funny and well done that it might be my favorite bit from all of his films. A villain who so believably loves life while committing dastardly crimes at the same time is the best kind of bad guy a film could ever hope for.

Elisha Cook Jr. plays Greenstreet’s diminutive sidekick and gunman, Wilmer Cook. The other actors in this film are so great that Cook often seems to be overlooked in reviews, but he’s really good. His moments with Bogart and his betrayal at the hands of Greenstreet would be considered the best of the film if Lorre hadn’t been so good at stealing scenes.

Lee Patrick plays Bogart’s secretary, Effie. I love the fact the woman who works for Sam Spade seems almost as sultry and dangerous as the woman who hires him onto a case that almost gets him killed. Patrick’s role isn’t huge, but she’s great. This is exactly the kind of woman that Spade would want working for him as she seems almost as sardonic as he does. Yet, she still seems to have a good heart buried beneath the cynicism as she quickly agrees to take Astor into her apartment to keep her safe when things start to get rough. I need to check out the rest of Patrick’s filmography.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Barton MacLane plays Lt. of Detectives Dundy. This guy is such a solid supporting actor and it’s fun to see him in a role where he’s not completely against Bogart. They get to have some fun back-and-forth teasing with just the right amount of edge to it. I can’t wait to add MacLane to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog.

Jerome Cowan plays Bogart’s ill-fated partner, Miles Archer. It’s a very small role for Cowan as he’s bumped off early on in the film, but he does well. He’s a good reminder for the audience that private detectives can run a bit on the sleazy side as his love for women is probably what gets him killed in the first place.

Gladys George plays Cowan’s widow, and Bogart’s mistress, Iva Archer. Again, it’s another small role that seems to be in place in order to show us a darker side of Spade’s character, but George does fine in the role with what she has to work with.

Classic Bogie Moment

So much to love here. I’m torn between a shot of him behind the desk as Astor enters his office, a shot of him with the falcon, a shot of him with Astor, and a shot of him with Greenstreet. But I just can’t resist this moment from the film where two men who genuinely came to love one another’s company in real life create one of my favorite moments in film history:

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Bogart Lorre Falcon

“When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it!”

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The Bottom Line

It’s the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of!

The Lost One

Lorre book

A review and interview with The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre‘s author Stephen D. Youngkin, and researcher/web guru Cheryl Morris.

In my experience, there are two kinds of celebrity biographies – the ones that stay close to the surface and are meant for a quick and enjoyable read, and the ones that go much deeper, giving the reader a thoroughly comprehensive look at not only a performer’s life, but also their essence. I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin falls into the second category.

By far the most comprehensive and exhaustive (in a great way) examination of an actor’s life, Youngkin has captured a portrait of character actor Peter Lorre that is not only fascinating, but sometimes exhilarating, occasionally painful, and finally haunting. Lorre’s prominence in Classic Hollywood had been documented so often in short bio pieces on TCM and in stories from other celebrity bios that I’d always felt as if I’d had a good handle on his life. What more was there left to know?

Plenty.

Youngkin’s years of work and research have shown that what we think we know about Peter Lorre only scratches the surface. Take for instance Lorre’s lifelong, sometimes tumultuous, friendship with theater director and playwright Bertolt Brecht. Like all really great bios, The Lost One gives us not only the details of Lorre’s relationship with Brecht, but the context – occasionally sidetracking deeply into the German Theater scene of the 1920’s and 30’s, dissecting the social and political climate surrounding the world that Brecht inhabited – a world that Lorre would work his way into, continuing to learn, study, and perform with Brecht until a close relationship was born. It was a relationship that would go on to affect the rest of Lorre’s career, a constant contrasting presence to his affluent Hollywood lifestyle and celebrity hobnobbing.

Above all else, the theme that runs through The Lost One is “passion.” Peter Lorre was passionate about acting, and sacrificed almost everything else in life to chase his dream. Malnutrition, debt, war, drugs, and the House Un-American Activities Committee couldn’t keep him from the stage or screen.

In fact, the only thing that probably came the closest to derailing Lorre’s career was typecasting. Murderous creep? Horror film sideshow? Gangster thug? If those are your first ideas about Peter Lorre’s characters, you need to take the time to read Youngkin’s definitive take on Lorre’s life.

This one’s a must read for Lorre fans, or anyone who has more than a passing fascination with Classic Hollywood, Bertolt Brecht, or early twentieth century theater. I picked up a copy so that I could read more about Lorre’s relationship with Bogart – I came away with a much deeper appreciation for one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors.

I was extremely honored to be able to have a conversation with The Lost One’s author Stephen D. Youngkin, and Cheryl Morris, the web guru who aided Youngkin with research and now maintains The Lost One’s web presence.

Bogie Film Blog: Stephen, Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from, what you do for a living?

Stephen D. Youngkin: I’m initially from the Mid-West. During graduate school at the University of Utah, I developed a strong interest in cinema history. After ten or so years working as an archivist at the Utah State Historical Society, I relocated, first to Pullman, Washington (Washington State University), where my wife was working toward her DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), then to Corvallis, Oregon (Oregon State University) . . . she received degrees from both schools. I am working on another project, when time permits. Two daughters, one seven, a second, seventeen months, keep me pretty busy. How did Patrick McGilligan get all those books written with three daughters?!

BFB: Speaking of being busy, I have to commend you on your work here, as the scope and scale of The Lost One is huge! How do you even go about compiling this much information about one person? How long did this process take?

SY: I became interested in Peter Lorre in the early-mid 1970s. Poking around the library, I found a dearth of information about the actor, certainly no written source that filled the gap between M (1931) and The Patsy (1964). I began thinking about writing a book.

At that time, I was in graduate school majoring in an unrelated field. My mentor knew a colleague at an Arizona university who was in contact with Vincent Price about their shared interest in American Indian art. Phone numbers were exchanged and Mr. Price made himself available. From there, my contact list mushroomed.

Price put me in contact with attorney Robert Shutan, who introduced me to Celia Lovksy (Lorre’s first wife -BFB). And one day she asked, “Would you like to talk with Fritz Lang?” I think the answer was pretty obvious. She picked up the phone and rang up Mr. Lang. . .

“I’m sending a young man up to talk with you. He’s writing a book about Peter.” After our interview, Mr. Lang said, “You know, the lady next door worked with Peter. Her name is Frances Drake (co-star of Mad Love).” Of course, this was pure luck.

And in those says the Screen Actors Guild was very good about forwarding mail. I wrote hundreds of letters. Sometimes my questions were answered in hard copy. At other times, I set up interviews. It was easier to access celebrities in those days. If you made it past the receptionist and/or agent, you generally had the interview. Even though I wasn’t sure what direction my interest would take, I knew I needed to get to these primary sources, many of whom were advanced in years, on record.

I first thought about doing a filmography, but Allan Wilson at Citadel Press (I still have his letter) said that he didn’t feel there was sufficient interest in Peter Lorre at that time. So, no Films of Peter Lorre, at least for now. Lorre went on the back burner for a time, then James Bigwood, Raymond G. Cabana, Jr. and I collaborated on The Films of Peter Lorre. By that time, around 1981, Citadel had changed its mind.

Once I decided to write a full-length biography, I visited film and theater archives in Germany (both East and West Berlin), Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, etc. I’m embarrassed to admit how many years I spent on the quest. As I say, for long periods, Lorre was pushed to the back burner during graduate school, subsequent grant work, etc.

At that point, I wasn’t convinced, having talked with agents, that I would even find a publisher. One agent told me, “Forget the films, forget about Brecht, give us the drugs, the women. Give us Bogart and Hitchcock.” It wasn’t the kind of reception that encouraged me to press ahead.

BFB: I think your devotion certainly paid off. In my experience, there are two kinds of Hollywood biographies – the ones that stay close to the surface and are meant for a quick and enjoyable read, and the ones that go much deeper, giving the reader a thoroughly comprehensive look at a performer’s life and being. I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Lost One falls into the second category.

SY: The reason for the biography’s comprehensiveness is at least two-fold. First, I was in no hurry. As far as I knew, no one else was working on a book about Peter Lorre. And I had the full and exclusive cooperation of a number of key sources, including Celia Lovksy, Cathy Lorre and Robert Shutan (Lorre’s close friend and attorney). Also, I’m basically a researcher. It’s what I enjoy, visiting archives, taking interviews, etc. There is an inherent drawback to this, however. You never want to stop researching and begin writing. There’s always another stone to turn over.

And that’s how some books never get written . . . the biographer just can’t draw a line and say enough.

BFB: There’s so much detailed information about Peter Lorre’s work in Europe – is someone keeping record of his legacy there, or did you have to do a lot of digging through records on your own?

SY: For Lorre’s theater work, I began at the beginning, digging up programs, reviews, even a few of his co-workers on the stage. This was probably the most challenging work but also the most rewarding. So many of the themes in Lorre’s life date from these early years. Also, the period very much interests me.

For the most part, people were very forthcoming with material.

BFB: Cheryl – Stephen gives you a pretty big acknowledgement at the beginning of the book. What was your contribution to the biography?

Cheryl Morris: I helped Stephen with the research by looking up information in back issues of the trade paper Variety and various city newspapers. I proofread and copy-edited the manuscript. Through the radio and TV logs of the New York Times, as well as other sources, I compiled Peter’s radio and television credits for the Appendix, and I keyed all of Peter’s credits for the Appendix. And at the end, just before publication, I proofread the galleys.

BFB: Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where you’re from, what you do for a living, what projects you’re working on now?

CM: I’m originally from California, but I’ve been living on the East Coast since 1985. I’m a computer programmer, specializing in web design. Besides the official website of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorrehttp://www.peterlorrebook.com – I work on three other websites: author Sandra Grabman’s personal site (http://www.sandragrabman.com), Charlie Datin’s Cruise Trek site (http://www.cruisetrek.com), and a site for a local small business owner.

I also write a Peter Lorre News blog, located at http://peterlorrenews.blogspot.com/, in which I cover screenings of Lorre movies on TV, in theaters, libraries, and other venues, as well as anything else Lorre-related – such as the 5-week Peter Lorre class called “The World of Peter Lorre” held in Vero Beach, Florida, years ago by an instructor who felt Peter was underused by Hollywood and wanted to help class participants understand his range as an actor.

I’m starting work on a travel website focusing on museums and guided walking tours. This site will be linked through the Peter Lorre News blog.

BFB: How did you come into contact with Stephen?

CM: Stephen and I have been friends since 1976 when we started corresponding. Along the way, I read various drafts of the manuscript for The Lost One on its way to publication. I had been a fan of Peter’s since 1973 and had a small collection of reviews, articles, photos and such, so I was able to help him with some of the research for his book.

BFB: How did you initially become interested in Lorre’s work?

CM: The first Lorre movie I saw was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on re-release to theaters in the early 1970s. This was back in the days when the Disney studio typically re-released movies from their vaults. But I really became a fan of Peter’s when I saw The Raven and Tales of Terror during an Edgar Allan Poe Week on a local TV station. I thought he was funny – and he had such big sad eyes.

BFB: Stephen, your book offers a wonderful, and very detailed, portrait of Bertolt Becht, giving us a lot of information even beyond his relationship with Lorre. Lorre clearly seemed to want to keep his ties to the theater and its community. What do you think was the draw that kept pulling him back?

SY: Lorre saw Brecht as one of the two most important writers of the 20th century, the other being James Joyce. He not only referred to Brecht as his best friend, but himself as one of Brecht’s actors. You can’t get a handle on Lorre without first understanding his friendship with Bertolt Brecht. This was the pivotal relationship in his life. How Lorre professionally looked at himself turned on it. In fact, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the only critical opinion of his work that mattered was Brecht’s.

The men influenced each other in profound ways. Lorre’s dual acting style gave form to Brecht’s theories. And Lorre’s capabilities, as Brecht saw them, defined him as an actor. From 1929 to the ends of their lives, they stood in one another’s shadows. But to back up, Lorre found himself caught between Bogart and Brecht. The former represented celebrity and good times. The latter, intellectual respectability. Clearly, Lorre wanted both. And he might have had both had Brecht’s film stories written for him been commercially viable. (Actually, one of them would have made a splendid noir, but studio politics damned the project.)

Readers are pretty familiar with the arc of Bogart’s career, but few know much about Brecht, his new style of acting, his time in America, etc., hence I covered it fairly thoroughly. This was the hidden part of Lorre’s life. Who would have guessed that during the making of the popular Bogart-Greenstreet films, he collaborated with Brecht on plans to redirect his film career?

When his movie career began to flounder during the late 1940s, Lorre made the choice (after some waffling) not to join Brecht in East Berlin. Life in Communist Germany was austere. Not so Hollywood. He liked it there. Addicted to the lifestyle? Definitely. And to the easy access to drugs. But also his friends were there, people who looked after him. And then there was the issue of politics. Lorre was politically liberal, but he certainly was no Communist. In fact, he had little interest in politics. Lastly, for someone in poor health, there was the need to stay close to good medical care. And, quite frankly, Lorre was tired, too tired to start over.

BFB: It seems that he earned a stronger reputation for being a versatile performer in the theater than he did on screen. What do you think held him back from being typecast as quickly in the theater?

CM: European theater owners and playwrights may have had a different way of looking at actors than did Hollywood movie studios of the 1930s and 1940s, when the contract system was in place.

Performing on a stage requires a different set of skills in performance and delivery; Europeans may have looked more at what an actor could bring to a part. On film, though, it seems that Hollywood looked for the actor’s “niche.”

Play a gangster in one 1930s Warner Bros. film, and suddenly in the minds of moviegoers, you “always play a gangster.” Appear in one 1930s Universal horror film, and suddenly, you’re “a horror film actor.”

Once Hollywood found that niche, they ensured the actor would continue in it – unless he had the box-office clout to break out and do something different. But there was always the chance audiences wouldn’t accept the actor in another type of part . . .

BFB: Cheryl, you mentioned in an earlier email that a video of one of Lorre’s early stage shows was taken. Which show was it? Is it available?

CM: It’s Bertolt Brecht’s Mann ist Mann.

The German director Carl Koch filmed a production of the play in 1931. Once available for screening only at the Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv in East Berlin, it’s now on DVD – and DVD copies are making the rounds.

The almost stop-action slow version runs fifty minutes, a frenetically faster version much shorter. However, the 16mm film is very poor quality and correlating scenes and text is difficult.

BFB: Was there one thing that really surprised you about Lorre as you researched his life?

SY: There were many surprises, but one of the most unexpected was just how well Lorre expressed himself in his few letters, especially those personally written (Celia often acted as his amanuensis) to close friends. In German, his writing is beautiful, even poetic.

CM: I was shocked to find out about his drug problems. A book I read on John Gielgud just put it starkly – “Peter Lorre was addicted to morphine.” Back in the 1970s, most people became addicted to drugs of all kinds because they were experimenting or “all their friends were doing it.” I didn’t know how it had happened to Peter – until I read the opening chapters of The Lost One.

BFB: It sounds like Lorre could be both a perfectionist with his work, while at the same time struggling with issues of procrastination and drug addiction. I’m amazed at how he maintained such a great career during his struggles. How do you think he was able to reconcile both sides of his life?

SY: Excellent question (and observation). There were several times during his theater career that drug addiction forced him to drop out of a play, but that was very rare. Yet, in other cases, drugs actually kept him performing, especially through stretches of debilitating health problems. Co-workers only occasionally sensed or came face-to-face with his addiction.

I’m thinking first of Norman Foster, who directed six of the Mr. Moto pictures. He first met the actor in a sanitarium and came away with the idea that Lorre was definitely not up to such a physical role. During filming Lorre was often moody. And then there’s the famous story about Lorre listening to Hitler over the radio. Norman comes in and tells him they are ready to shoot. Lorre, saliva running down his face, screams, “The world is falling apart and you want me to make a picture.” Lorre had such long running exposure to drugs that he learned how to work with them for the most part, how to pace himself.

The burden of directing, starring in, and co-producing The Lost One weighed heavily on him. Co-workers said that when he wound down, he would disappear, then reappear (seemingly) refreshed and ready to rally off. Co-workers of W.C. Fields say that liquor sharpened the comedian’s creative edge. I don’t know that morphine served the same purpose, but it seemed to keep other health problems at bay, at a high cost that he would eventually pay. You don’t see it on screen, at least not often.

An exception is the British film Double Confession (1951). Ken Annakin, who directed the picture, admitted that he was captivated by Lorre so just let him go, with the result that the actor went over the top with improvisation. What Annakin might not have known is that Lorre was heavily on drugs, meaning morphine, at this point. You have to keep in mind that Lorre had been on and off morphine since his early twenties. For the most part, he knew how to keep the obvious signs at bay. Sheer professionalism will out.

BFB: Being a Bogart site, I have to ask, do you have a favorite collaboration between Bogart and Lorre out of the five films that they made together?

SY: Knowing a little about what went on behind-the-scenes tends to color your appreciation. I think The Maltese Falcon is clearly their best film. However, I’m very fond of Beat the Devil because I know how much Lorre enjoyed making it . . . and it shows on screen.

CM: My favorite Bogart-Lorre movie is All Through the Night. I especially like the way Peter’s character Pepi stands up to Bogie’s “Gloves” Donahue, instead of Bogie getting the better of him, as he does in the other four movies they made together.

BFB: Both men had made an impression in cinema before The Maltese Falcon, but that was certainly the film that brought them both the widest attention for their careers to that point in the U.S. Could you speak for a moment on their relationship? Both men weren’t your typical good looking leading men. Do you think there was a kindred spiritedness to being both typecast for so long?

SY: Bogart and Lorre had so much to build on. They held each other in high esteem as actors. And both were professionals who did their job and went home . . . or out for a drink. Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, just have fun doing it. And stir up some trouble along the way. Any interview with one of Bogart and Lorre’s friends and co-workers quickly came round to their mutual discontent at Warner Bros. They hated the Front Office, the patriarchal echelon. Typecasting was part of it, but more so a lack of respect for authority, especially what they perceived as arbitrary authority.

However different their approaches – Bogart was a chronic complainer, Lorre more subtly insubordinate – they were on the same page. People also talked about how the pixie in Lorre, his elfin charm, amused Bogart, who came to think of him as a good luck token.

CM: I believe their friendship was probably based more on their appreciation for the acting profession, rather than the problems they had with typecasting. I’ve read that Bogart was very proud to be an actor. Peter Lorre loved being an actor, too – for him, there was nothing else – but he didn’t want others to know how seriously he took his craft.

Also, although Peter had a particular “character type,” he actually played a variety of characters – especially at Warner Bros. Make a list of Lorre characters at Warners and you’ll probably find them fairly evenly divided between Villains and Heroes.

BFB: Do you have a favorite “behind the scenes” story about Bogart and Lorre?

SY: Well, this one is not tied to a particular film, but I’m fond of the story about Bogart and Lorre wheeling Dave Chasen’s safe onto Beverly Boulevard. It’s in character for both of them.

CM: My favorite story is the one of Bogart knocking on the kitchen window of a house in the Hollywood hills early one morning and asking the woman inside for a cup of coffee. Recognizing him from the movies, she invites him in. And then he calls up Peter and asks him to pick him up and take him to the studio, where they were working on Passage to Marseille. When Peter arrives, Bogie is sitting at the kitchen table, talking with the kids in the family, and drinking brandy and coffee. I’ve wondered what it was like for the kids to have these two stars in their home.

Because although Peter generally supported the leads in his movies, he was as recognizable as Bogie was. He was doing a lot of radio at this time, appearing as the guest star on all the big variety and anthology shows, like Duffy’s Tavern and Suspense.

BFB: What about between Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet? Does a certain film standout as a favorite collaboration between the two?

SY: I’m not sure I should repeat one of my favorite stories . . . it’s a little off color, but so typical of Lorre’s penchant for charging a situation. One day when Greenstreet was sunning himself during the making of The Conspirators, Lorre cracked, in Hedy Lamarr’s presence, that he was glad someone around here had a pair of tits. It was not surprising to learn that Lamarr disliked Lorre.

Both The Mask of Dimitrios and The Verdict stand out for me. I think Lorre and Greenstreet’s chemistry reached its peak in these films. They make such a comfortable fit.

CM: The Verdict (1946) is my favorite Lorre and Greenstreet movie. It’s the film I think of when I think of them. Their characters are best friends, and as they have always played off each other well, they have several amusing and charming scenes in The Verdict. It’s out on DVD now, so Lorre and Greenstreet fans can check it out.

BFB: How about just a favorite overall Lorre film?

SY: That’s a tough question . . . best and favorite doesn’t always equate. This will rub some Lorre fans the wrong way (or at least leave them scratching their heads), but I’m very fond of Silk Stockings because we see Lorre as he wished to be seen. Director Rouben Mamoulian wanted to present the private Lorre, the one that he knew personally. Clearly, Lorre relished the comedy role. He not only danced, in a way, but also sang. It’s fun to watch Lorre being himself.

CM: I tend to have favorite Lorre characters, rather than movies, just because Peter didn’t usually have the lead in his films.

Among my favorite Lorre characters are Marius in Passage to Marseille, Victor Emric in The Verdict, Johnny West in Three Strangers, Mr. Moto in the Moto film series, Nikolai Zaleshoff in Background to Danger, and Capt. Chang in They Met in Bombay. My favorite Moto film is Thank You, Mr. Moto, released second in the series, but filmed third.

BFB: Are there any misconceptions to Lorre’s life that you’d love to clear up?

SY: I suppose it still rankles me that Lorre is considered a “horror” star. As early as 1935, studio publicists and critics began singing this song . . . and setting the stage for his stature as a horror icon. There again, the actor preferred to call Mad Love “psychological terror” rather than horror. No one listened, of course.

Lorre did work with Lugosi and Karloff relatively early in his career, but in what were predominantly comedies, e.g. You’ll Find Out and The Boogie Man Will Get You. No monsters here, just “old dark house” silliness and an Arsenic and Old Lace spin off. And unlike Lugosi and Karloff, Lorre most often balanced menacing roles with humor.

The only horror film Lorre conceded was The Beast with Five Fingers (which he didn’t want to make). And the AIP-Edgar Allan Poe films? Well, when Price and especially Lorre got done with them, they were comedies.

When you survey his film roles, Lorre actually played a wide variety of roles, even comedy, when, to my mind, he is at his very best.

CM: The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre does an excellent job of debunking the popular myths about Peter’s life – that he “ran away from home to become an actor,” that he “studied under Sigmund Freud” – myths you can read about on some of the popular biographical websites.

On the Lost One website, we also have a biographical sketch, written by Stephen in 2000, for the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture that addresses these errors.

Peter wasn’t always the creepy, scary guy with the high-pitched voice seen in caricatures and cartoons. He was a talented actor who could play any kind of character. He could be the guy you wouldn’t mind having a drink with or introducing to your family. And he could also be the guy you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

BFB: Considering that Lorre seemed averse to ever writing an autobiography, what do you think he’d make of the tribute you’ve created for him?

SY: I’ve often wondered what Lorre would have thought of The Lost One. Friends of his have said he would have appreciated the fact that someone took the time to look behind the screen image, to explore other facets of his life. There was so much more of himself that he wanted to share.

With the help of co-workers, friends and family, I tried to peel back the many layers of a very complex man. And I do think that he would have enjoyed reading the firsthand recollections and seeing just how respected and loved he was. Did I get to know him? Years of research and shared memories certainly brought me closer to the man. Still, there is an element of mystery within every person that cannot be broached, only respected.

Knowing Lorre as I do, I think he would have just shrugged and said, “You got some things right.”

CM: I think he would appreciate the effort we make to show the various facets of Peter Lorre. Many Lorre websites and blogs are out on the internet, and many of them use photos of Peter as Dr. Gogol, one of his two “horror film” parts, or other photos in which he’s cringing or cowering.

But the photos Peter saved throughout his life were portraits taken in the early years of his Hollywood career. Portraits of him dressed in a suit and tie and looking very debonair.

These portraits will appear in a special slideshow I’m building for the redesigned home page of the Lost One website.

BFB: The candid pictures you used in the book were one of my favorite parts, for sure! Can you talk to me a little bit about the website you maintain for the book?

CM: I started building the site in May 2005, several months in advance of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre coming out in print. Initially, Stephen and I used the site to promote the book, as well as include a lot of photos and information on Peter. With so many message boards and chat groups on Peter, having a website made it easy to get out the word on the book to Peter’s fans.

Since then, the site has gradually become more of a general “Peter Lorre” site, with galleries of photos, images of posters and lobby cards from Peter’s movies, DVDs of Lorre movies and TV shows, and Peter’s radio shows.

In fact, Stephen has been contacted through the Lorre website by documentary filmmakers who invited him to participate in extra features for DVD box-sets, such as the Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection Vol. 2, and the remastered Mr. Moto movies.

I’m currently redesigning the website, and there will be a lot of new material and many more photos.

In addition, we have a Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Lost-One-Authorized-Biography-of-Peter-Lorre/636098279737484.

A Twitter page — https://twitter.com/lorrebook.

And a YouTube channel — http://www.youtube.com/user/PeterLorreBook.

These will all be linked up on the redesigned website – but of course, anyone is welcome to visit them now.

BFB: Thanks so much Stephen and Cheryl! As a fan, I truly appreciate the years of work you put into chronicling Peter’s work, keeping his legacy alive for generations to come!

*The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre is available to purchase in paperback here! I highly recommend you pick up a copy!*

Peter Lorre

maltese falcon pic
Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, The Maltese Falcon, 1941

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The Usual Suspects:

Early on during the first few weeks of this blog, I had the idea to start a section where I would write about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators and costars – actors, directors, writers, etc. – that worked with him on multiple films.  Given the contract system of the movie studios, casts and crews often overlapped from one film to another.  Character actor Eddy Chandler, for instance, costarred in thirteen different pictures with Bogart, almost exclusively in tiny bit parts, often uncredited.  But there were also those artists that Bogart had deep personal friendships with, and sometimes, strong working relationships – people that often appeared repeatedly by choice, supporting Hollywood’s most famous leading man to make some of the greatest films in cinema history.

Dubbed The Usual Suspects, this first post is in response to the “Dynamic Duos” Blogathon over at Classic Movie Hub (@ClassicMovieHub) and Once Upon a Screen (@CitizenScreen).  What better way to begin, I thought, than by kicking it off with one of Bogie’s most famous costars and close friends, Peter Lorre.

The Man

Born in Rózsahegy, Hungary, László Löwenstein began his acting career by sacrificing everything he had in life to devote himself to the theater, eventually moving to Germany to study under playwright Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht latched onto Lorre right away and knew how to use him, bringing the unique looking actor much acclaim during their long and productive collaboration together.  Adopting the stage name Peter Lorre in 1925, Lowenstein received his big break in the starring role of his second movie, playing a child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M.

When the Nazis fully took power of Germany in 1933, Lorre left, traveling Europe and eventually arriving at London.  His performance in M got him noticed by director Alfred Hitchcock and led to a role in Hitchcock’s film The Man Who Knew Too Much.  After working with Hitchcock, Lorre would make his move to Hollywood where he found great success with his unique look and soft speech pattern playing an assortment of bad guys and shady characters.

Lorre would go on to star in the Mr. Moto movie series in which he played a Japanese detective in eight different films.  He also became a longtime collaborator with actor Sydney Greenstreet, making nine films with the English stage legend.

Lorre is perhaps best known, though, as the five-time costar and good friend of Humphrey Bogart.  Working together on some of Hollywood’s most legendary classic films, Bogart and Lorre left behind some great stories of onset pranks, drinking revelry, and a deep friendship that reverberate through Hollywood lore to this day.

It was at Lorre’s house where Bogart would sleep off many a drunk night rather than go home to face his third wife, Mayo Methot.  It was also at Lorre’s ranch where Bogart and Lauren Bacall would hideaway for weekend rendezvous when they needed to stay out of the limelight as they courted.  And perhaps most famously, it was Lorre who gave this advice when Bogart fretted that he was too old for Lauren Bacall – “Five good years are better than none!”

THE FILMOGRAPHY

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

joel cairo 2

Lorre plays Joel Cairo, an associate of Sydney Greenstreet’s Kasper ‘The Fatman’ Gutman.  Both men make attempts to hire Sam Spade (Humprhey Bogart) to acquire a valuable jewel-encrusted falcon statue – perhaps the most famous cinema ‘MacGuffin’ of all time.  Cairo, who’s portrayed overtly gay in the novel on which the film is based, has his homosexuality toned down considerably in this film due to the Hay’s Code of film censorship.  Instead of direct references, Cairo’s sexuality is inferred through his effeminate fussiness, and occasional physicalities with his cane:

Reportedly, the cast and crew got along very well during the filming of this movie, and would go out for drinks at the end of the day as they were often ahead of production schedule.  They were also a very close knit and private group, unappreciative of outside influence either from the studio or the public.  One particularly famous story relates that one of the main actors, either Bogart or Lorre, played a joke on a visiting women’s club as they walked by the set.  One of the two actors supposedly exited Mary Astor’s trailer, zipping up his fly, and calling out “Bye, Mary!”  A. M. Sperber credits the story as happening to Lorre in her Bogart bio, Bogart (p 160), while Stefan Kanfer names Bogart as the perpetrator in his Bogart bio, Tough Without a Gun (p 65).  Neither author cites specifically where they got the story, but I suppose what’s most important is not the actual culprit, but the reputation that the cast had earned as ornery tricksters and close friends.

All Through the Night – 1942

pepi

Lorre plays Pepi, the Nazi hitman and sometimes piano accompanist to Kaaren Verne’s Leda Hamilton.  Pepi kicks off the storyline by murdering “Gloves” Donahue’s (Humphrey Bogart) favorite cheesecake baker, setting off a chain of events that leads New York’s most notorious gangsters up against the Third Reich in this comedy thriller.

Lorre enters the film walking through the door of a baker’s shop, eerily humming a tune before teasing the poor baker and then beating him to death.  Referred to as “the goggle-eyed little rat,” by ‘Gloves,’ Lorre is wonderful, and one of the true highlights of the film.  Only two actors are capable of smoking in such a way as to defy gravity – Lorre and Bogart – as their cigarettes dangle at an impossible 90 degree angle from their lips.

Karen Verne would go on to leave her husband for Lorre, becoming Lorre’s second wife, although their marriage would prove to be tumultuous and short lived.

Casablanca – 1942

ugarte and rick

Lorre plays Ugarte, a black marketeer who hides valuable letters of transit with Bogart’s Rick Blaine before being arrested by the police.  Ugarte’s plan is to sell the papers for a small fortune in order to pay for his escape from Casablanca.  His relationship with Blaine seems to be one of mutual loathing and respect.  They don’t necessarily like each other, but they occasionally find one another valuable.

Just before giving Blaine the transit papers, Ugarte tells him “You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”  Blaine tells Ugarte that he’ll hold the papers for him, but doesn’t want them in his nightclub overnight.  We then get perhaps the most ominous moment in the film when Ugarte lightly puts his hands upon the papers and gently tells Rick “Don’t be afraid of them. . .”  The papers are Casablanca’s ‘MacGuffin,’ and once again Peter Lorre is here to play a hand in the treasured objects of fate.  Men died for Ugarte to obtain the papers, and more people would die before they are finally used.  As the objects of everyone’s desires, even Blaine himself contemplates stealing the papers to run away with Ilsa.

Lorre’s part in the movie was small and shot so quickly that he had no idea how much the role would go on to help define his place in cinema history.  On the set, he supposedly carried a hidden dropper of water that he would use to extinguish Director Michael Curtiz’s cigarette with when he wasn’t looking.  (Kanfer, 79)

Passage to Marseille – 1944

marius

Lorre plays Marius, one of Bogart’s fellow escaped convicts from Devil’s Island.  I found this to be one of Lorre’s most likable roles, as he’s a full-on action partner to Bogart in the film, teaming up to both escape from prison, and then later to take down a Nazi bomber as it attacks their ship.  Seeing both men take their shots at the German plane with machine guns, occasionally stopping to wave to one another and smile, is one of my favorite moments in Bogart / Lorre cinema history.

marius 2

There’s a lot of delight to be had watching both men squint, smoke, and plot together as they make their way back to France.  This is the only film out of the five in which they are on completely friendly terms, and their chemistry is superb.

As the story goes, Bogart and Lorre took great fun in pranking Director Michael Curtiz on the set.  Both would take turns stalling shots as they told long and tedious anecdotes.  The monologues would only end when they got a laugh from Curtiz.  No laugh from the director meant more jokes and stories from Bogart and Lorre.  (Kanfer, 96)

Beat the Devil – 1953

devil

Lorre plays Mr. O’Hara, a member of the criminal ring that’s in league with Bogart to obtain and exploit some African land that’s rich with uranium.  Bogart and Director John Huston wanted Lorre on this film as they believed that he was a lucky talisman for Bogart after The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. (Kanfer, 175)  Not to mention the fact that Lorre and Bogart were good drinking friends, and always enjoyed each other’s company.  Huston and Bogart asked Lorre to take a significant pay cut in order to keep the budget low, and Lorre accepted the role in order to work with a good friend.

Lorre’s costar, Robert Morley, on the other hand, considered Lorre to be “an intensely tiresome little chap with quite the foulest vocabulary I have ever had the misfortune to listen to.” (Kanfer, 178)

Sporting some extra weight and a short crop of blond hair, Lorre is great as the smooth-talking little crook that is excited for the swindle, but always ready to cower behind one of the other criminals if things look rough.

If you haven’t seen it in a while, the film is a lot of fun, and it’s great to hear Lorre’s distinctive speech pattern saying lines written by scriptwriter Truman Capote:

O’Hara:  “Time, time, what is it?  The Swiss manufacture it, the French hoard it, Italians want it, Americans say it’s money, Hindus say it does not exist.  You know what I say?  I say time is a crook.”

Truer words were never spoken as you consider the fact that this was the last pairing of the two great Classic Hollywood actors.

In Closing

Five films.  All of them are classics in their own right.   One of them is considered by many to be the greatest film of all time.  The friendship and working relationship of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre has etched a large and permanent mark onto the landscape of cinema history.  Powerfully gifted apart, but even greater together, I can’t think of a better duo to kick off the inaugural post for The Usual Suspects portion of this blog.

Bonus Lorre Facts:

He was the very first actor to play a bond villain when he portrayed Le Chiffre in the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale!

When asked by the House Un-American Activities Committee to name the names of anyone he considered suspicious and possibly a communist, Lorre gave them a list of everyone he knew.  The same group would go on to assemble a thick file on Bogart and cause him considerable mental turmoil over the years despite the fact that he was a diehard U.S. patriot.

The Boo Berry ghost mascot from General Mills was inspired by Lorre.

*All research for this post was done with Stephen D. Youngkin’s Peter Lorre biography, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, A. M. Sperber’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Bogart, Stefan Kanfer’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Tough Without a Gun, Peter Lorre’s Wikipedia page, The Maltese Falcon’s Wikipedia page, the official website of The Humphrey Bogart Estate, and various movie entries on IMDB.  All screen caps were done by the author and are intended for review/criticism of the films mentioned.  Any portion of this post that could not be correlated with at least one other source is credited specifically within the post.

In This Our Life – 1942

In this our life poster

My Review

—A Thrilling Look at a Sociopath— 

Bogie Film Fix:

NO BOGIE NO BOGIES out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  John Huston

The Lowdown

Stanley Timberlake (Bette Davis) is a woman who’s never afraid to take what she wants.  Unfortunately for her sister Roy (Olivia de Havilland), Stanley wants her brother-in-law Peter (Dennis Morgan).

What I Thought

Here’s my first major disappointment while blogging about Bogart.  While I really loved this movie, it was a huge letdown for me to discover that Bogart is nowhere to be seen within it.  According to every online and book-bound Bogart filmography available, Bogart’s credited with a small cameo in the film.  IMDB says he’s an uncredited dancer on a roadhouse table.  The official Humphrey Bogart Estate site claims that he has a cameo as a tavern owner.  After a careful, frame by frame, examination of both bar/tavern scenes, I can definitively say that Humphrey Bogart is nowhere in this picture.

Directed by John Huston, rumor had it that Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and a few others had appeared in the movie as background players for a scene to add a little “in-joke” for Huston fans.  Whether the scene was cut out from the film, or just a hoax to begin with, none of them are visible.

So!  Moving forward – while I’m disappointed that I didn’t find Mr. Bogart, I made a decision early on to blog about every Bogart film in his filmography, and this film is still listed in his credits!  (Plus, it’s a great movie and deserves as much attention as it can get!)

Bette Davis and George Brent are reunited for the second time on this blog (the first being Dark Victory) in a completely different kind of relationship.  Stanley Timberlake (Davis) is in a committed relationship with Craig Fleming (Brent), but she dumps him in a heartbeat when her brother-in-law Peter (Dennis Morgan) agrees to run away with her.

It’s a wild role for Davis, as she’s playing a much more ruthless, heartless, selfish, borderline-sociopathic role than usual.  Instead of using her girl next door charms to win over hearts, she uses them to slowly destroy her relationships with friends and family, and then to literally destroy several lives.  She’s a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel, and temptress – and it’s truly an amazing role for the young Davis.

One of the best things about the film is that we’re left to ponder one of the big unexplained mysteries of the script – why do Davis and de Havilland’s characters both have male names?  My guess (and perhaps it’s actually explained in the novel that the film is based on) is that their father wanted boys, and they were raised in a house filled with subconscious regret and resentment.  Could this have led Stanley down her road of deviousness?  Is this what hardened Roy’s heart to move on so quickly after her husband leaves her?  It’s not explained, and doesn’t need to be, but it’s a great bit to ponder long after the film is over.

This was my first viewing of In This Our Life, and I’ve never heard or seen much press on it before.  John Huston has filmed a great psychological drama/thriller, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Bogart Factor

He doesn’t factor in at all!  What’s the story?  How did this rumor start?  Was a scene actually filmed?  Did Huston find it too distracting to have all those famous stars in the background?  Was the scene cut from my newer copy of the film?  Is Bogart really there, but all we get is an elbow or the back of his head?  Was it a hoax started by a fan or reporter?  Does the scene exist but in a different movie?

There are two scenes that take place in a bar/roadhouse.  I watched them both on an HD screen multiple times.  If Bogart’s there, it’s so slight that it makes no difference.  Part of me wants to argue that it’s probably a hoax, as it would seem silly to get all those stars together just for a short joke.  But if they were all still under contract, they could have all been on the lot, and it might have been an easy shoot . . .

Either way, I’ve emailed the Humphrey Bogart Estate to ask them their opinion, and I’ll post it if I get a response!

The Cast

George Brent and Olivia de Havilland were excellent as the spurned lovers, Craig Fleming and Roy Timberlake.  I thought Huston handled their courtship with perfection, and it was a much more believable take on how people fall in love in the real world, rather than with cinema magic.

Dennis Morgan has plenty of angst in the role of Peter Kingsma, Davis’ wild fling that goes horribly wrong.  I need to check out his other films!

Perhaps the standout of the film is Charles Coburn as Uncle William.  There’s a great scene in his den as Bette Davis tries to ask/flirt for money.  It’s here that we get the crux of Stanley’s tragic flaw as Uncle William explains to her that they’re both cut from the same cloth.  When they want something, they just take it – regardless of the consequences.

Classic Bogie Bette Moment

I’ll give Bette Davis an honorary nod here since Bogie’s not in the film.

There was a second in the movie that I was almost ready to give Bette’s wild home-wrecker one more chance.  She’s standing by her new console radio with her shoes resting on top of it, daydreaming about some unknown mischief.  As the music plays, she subtly begins to dance the shoes with her hands in time to the music.  It’s exactly the kind of thing that would have made me fall in love with her in any other film, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that creeps you out as you watch it here with Davis in such a dastardly role.

The Bottom Line

No Bogie, but GREAT Bette.  I’ll take it.