Before I took my hiatus from blogging last month, I had planned to do a June baby extravaganza, featuring posts about classic stars born in the best possible month to be born in. Can you tell I am a little biased about June here? It’s probably because the 7th anniversary of my 29th birthday was on June 22.
Now that I am back to blogging regularly, I have decided to periodically post about my fellow June babies for the rest of the year. Yay!
First up is Peter Lorre, who was easily the most recognized character actor to ever grace Hollywood.
Peter was born László Löwenstein on June 26, 1904 in the little village of Ružomberok, Slovakia which was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but spent most of his young life in Vienna.
When he was a teenager, he ran away from home and was wooed by the Vienna stage, playing small roles in comedies and musicals, and always managing to steal every scene he was in even if he only had one line.
In 1929, he began working in motion pictures. His first role was uncredited, as a dentist’s patient in the film Die Verschwundene Frau. Two years later, he landed the role of Hans Beckert, a child killer in Fritz Lang’s M, a role that typecast him as a villain for most of his career.
While M is a fantastic film, it is something that Lorre deeply regretted because he did not like people on the street recognizing him for it and stupidly thinking he was Hans Beckert. Even worse, he received fan letters from perverted psychopaths, which repulsed him. And he never worked with Fritz Lang again, mostly because of all the physical abuse he endured under the famed director.
If you only know Peter Lorre for his role in M, or any of the other menacing characters he portrayed in Hollywood, I think it is about time you became familiar with some of his kinder, gentler roles. And there were plenty. Today I am going to feature three of them and urge you to run off and rent or buy all the films.
3. Chefredakteur Stix in Die Koffer des Herrn O.F. (1931)
Die Koffer des Herrn O.F. is about a collection of mysterious trunks marked with the intials O.F. that arrive in the small German town of Ostend. These trunks get all the townsfolk talking, wondering who they belong to and what they are doing there.
Lorre, who plays the scheming editor-in-chief of the newspaper, hatches a plan to get some much-needed updates to the old-fashioned town. He lies and says the trunks belong to a local boy made good, a millionaire by the name of Oskar Flaut. Upon hearing this, the whole town gets a facelift, including the townsfolk who all buy new wardrobes, in preparation for “Oskar’s” homecoming.
Along with getting the improvements he wants, chubby little Stix also gets a girl. It’s terribly cute how he goes from a calculating newspaper man to a bashful little boy around her, as you can see in clips in the following Lorre tribute from YouTube, marked with “Verboten”.
2. Otto Füssli in Was Frauen träumen (1933)
Was Frauen träumen is a German comedy about a kleptomaniac (Nora Gregor) who goes about town stealing jewels, which are later paid for by a mysterious stranger.
Lorre plays a bumbling police inspector who is trying to figure out who it is stealing the jewels, but only has a glove marked with the scent of an expensive perfume as evidence.
In the following clip from the film, he is sat right next to the jewel thief singing a song about handsome police officers…
1. Colonel Gimpy in Crack-Up (1936)
If you have been a friend of mine for one second (or less), you know that Colonel Gimpy is my all-time favorite Peter Lorre character. I love, worship, and adore Gimpy.
So who is Gimpy and why is it I have had the idea to take my copy of Crack-Up to the courthouse and marry it? (I’m serious…sort of). “Gimpy” is a dope who hangs around an airport, blowing a little trumpet and making owl faces (day and night ones), saying he is a part of a team developing a new transatlantic airplane.
Everyone assumes he is a harmless little freak, but what they don’t know is that “Gimpy” is the alias for the vindictive German Baron Rudolf Maximilian Taggart, the head of a spy organization that wants to get its hands on the blueprints for the plane.
Here is what Lorre said about the character:
“Colonel Gimpy was a character worth any actor’s while,” explained Lorre. “He’s just this side of sinister, but real, with a sense of humor and fanatical fidelity to his code. I studied the role very carefully before accepting it, as I wanted to be sure it was not the type to horrify audiences.”
~From Stephen D. Youngkin’s The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre
*Sigh* Oh Lorre, “if you only knew what was going through this head of mine…if you only knew!” I love that character more than life itself. And if you can find a copy of this film (it’s desperately hard to find) then consider yourself lucky. It is one of the best things ever put out by Hollywood.
Most clips from Crack-Up have been stripped from YouTube for copyright violation (BOO), but there are some Lorre tributes still out there that include clips of Gimpy and his horn, including this one. *sigh* Have I mentioned I LOVE this character?
And that, my darlings, wraps up my top 3 list of the often overlooked Peter Lorre characters. Now run along and go watch some Lorre movies so you can fully appreciate the chubby little munchkin for the brilliant artist he was.