The Lost One:
Critics Are Saying . . . . .
A selection of reviews of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (University Press of Kentucky, Sept. 2005), available in bookstores and through on-line merchants everywhere.
VUE Weekly; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada:
PAGING PETER LORRE
Stephen D. Youngkin rediscovers Hollywood's glamour-era villain in The Lost One
I'm stuck in the middle seat of a plane, and the guy next to me glances at the hefty volume in my hands and asks what I'm reading. "A biography of Peter Lorre," I tell him. His brow furrows; he asks, "Who's Peter Lorre?" I mention The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca; I mention the wide-set, bulgy eyes. "Trust me," I say, "you'd know him if you saw him." But then the guy adopts a vague central European accent and softly hisses, "Oh, yesssss, Meester Lorre." Okay, maybe you'd know him if you heard him.
Lorre leapt from the Berlin stage to the silver screen in the morning of the sound era, a time when cinema was discovering its voices, voices so brimming with character they haunt our culture to this day, meaning more to us than the voices of contemporary film stars. In the case of Lorre, that voice, like that face, was so distinctive that after his film debut he never quite managed to escape the confines of his pivotal first role, that of child murderer Hans Beckert in Fritz Lang's M. Lorre's performance, at once terrifying and sympathetic, was so convincing he got fan mail from psychopaths. Excerpts of the movie were later exploited by the Nazis in anti-Semitic propaganda films (Lorre was a Jew). People who hadn't even seen M knew who Lorre was and swiftly fled in the opposite direction with their children.
Despite his talent, range and fame, Lorre's inability to shed the shadow of Hans Beckert is one of the twin melancholy refrains in Stephen D. Youngkin's The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, a lovingly researched, much needed examination of Lorre's troubled life. Even after a quarter-century as one of the most familiar personalities in Hollywood, Lorre was perpetually being hired to play the little monster, a type so emblematic that directors would finally resign themselves to simply asking Lorre to "Just be Peter Lorre." By his last years, Youngkin imagines, filmmaking for Lorre "had become a revolving door, with his double, the dark insider, being ushered in, while he was escorted out."
The Lost One's other refrain also begins with the letter M. As a penniless bohemian from Hungary who was taking Berlin's (especially Brecht's) theatre by storm, Lorre developed pulmonary tuberculosis and an addiction to morphine that he would never quite shake. Youngkin convincingly surmises that the addiction was no doubt exacerbated by Lorre's struggles with typecasting, with the dissatisfaction he felt at being unable to branch out or realize some of his dream roles. Parts such as Kaspar Hauser or the title character in Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk were projects Lorre always spoke about (Chaplin even offered to direct Svejk) but failed to ever realize. His ability to function veiled an overwhelming dependence, but it began visibly taking its toll by the time Lorre was in his mid-40s, wearing away at his health until he died of a brain haemorrhage at 59.
Yet for all the sadness that permeated Lorre's life, Youngkin recognizes the considerable joy the humble, good-humoured actor took in being able to work at all, especially if he could work with good friends (and formidable drinking buddies) like John Huston or Humphrey Bogart. Youngkin relays numerous brilliant anecdotes about Lorre's productive time at Warner Bros., but my favourite has Lorre getting a call from Bogart at 6 a.m., asking to be picked up at some private residence in Hollywood Hills. Bogart had shut down every bar and wandered through the night until he smelled coffee emanating from a house. Unshaven and dirty, he pressed his face to the kitchen window and asked "Can I have some coffee?" The woman inside shrieked but soon recognized Bogart, and by the time Lorre arrived, Bogart was drinking coffee with brandy and enjoying a story-editing session with four kids.
Lorre spoke sparingly about his politics, but Youngkin also gives us an intriguing portrait of Lorre's inevitable entanglements and fundamentally Samaritan heart. There's a wonderful story about Lorre who, before fleeing Nazi Germany, was helping a friend burn incriminating documents on a beach along the Baltic. The two men were spotted by police but explain that they're there to shoot a new Peter Lorre movie called The Fire Victim of the Baltic Sea. The star-struck officer winds up rolling up his sleeves and helping them feed the fire.
Youngkin's biography transports us to another time, a time of World Wars and sweeping ideologies, of pioneering in the film industry and a "stable" mentality guiding the studios. But it's uncanny how clearly Lorre's persona reaches from that time, sails right across the years, a real standout character back when Hollywood was full of characters. Lorre's persona was so complex, unusual and engaging that it transcends style. And with The Lost One, that persona can now be further fleshed out by a glimpse of the real person behind it. — Reviewed by Josef Braun; December 29, 2005
National Post; part of the Canada.com Network:
His life was as noir as his films
Actor Peter Lorre lived the turbulent plots of his movies
An air of desperate melancholy hung over Peter Lorre, even when he parodied himself in mock-horror films, milking the great performances of his youth for late-in-life gags. The neurosis he carried like a worn satchel was at least in part the result of his unhappy Mittel-European childhood and adolescence. He was born in small-town Hungary in 1904, lived for a while in Romania, found his vocation in Vienna and after much anguish became known around the world, a character actor in the movies who was more famous than many a star . . .
This was painful but effective training for an actor destined always to play some version of the outsider, the pervert or the marginal man. He was like a walking apology, and he spent much of his career speaking in a low-decibel hiss, as if hoping we wouldn't hear the shameful things he was saying. Like all great screen actors, Lorre did the crucial work with his eyes. Whether waiting in heavy-lidded repose or spinning in wide arcs of terror, they were never less than eloquent.
I find him irresistibly watchable even in one of his lesser parts, such as the terrified Commissar Brankov in the 1957 Fred Astaire film Silk Stockings, based on the Cole Porter musical. But even I was dispirited by the announcement of a 613-page biography, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (University Press of Kentucky), by Stephen D. Youngkin. It sounded like another subject being smothered beneath mountains of irrelevant data and leaden speculation.
All to the contrary: The three decades Youngkin spent on his book and the 300 interviews he conducted have given us an enthralling account of Lorre's life and art, set plausibly in the cultural geography that sustained him, from Vienna to Los Angeles. . .
In 1964, he died of a stroke, aged 59. Never a good manager of his business affairs, he left his one offspring, a daughter, nothing but unpaid income-tax bills. To the rest of us, he bequeathed indelible memories. — Reviewed by Robert Fulford; January 10, 2006
Blunt Review With Emily Blunt:
BLUNTLY / ABOUT TOWN
Speaking of mysteries . . . The Lost One : A life of Peter Lorre by Stephen Youngkin is out and ready for perusal. The detailed book weaves through the life of Peter Lorre aka Laszlo Loewenstein. And this was one interesting little cat. Youngkin's book is chock-full of touching memories, Hollywood steamed stories and visceral snippets that are pure heroin for the people who – like myself – adore Mr. Lorre's work. This guy had a lot more than Joel and Moto on his resume! I adore biographies of interesting folks – it's often better than the fiction out there. Even the book's title is an ode to the lad. The title is taken from a strangely moving self directed piece by Lorre in German – aber ein wenig vom schweizer Deutschen (you can find it at Eddie Brandt's and hip-haunts of video finds), in which Lorre plays a man haunted by his past – and you quickly learn he had a lot to do with the haunting of his past – very Lorre. And it warrants multiple viewings. You can get this interesting book here => Buy it — Reviewed by Emily Blunt; February, 2006
The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (2005) by Stephen Youngkin – now in its third printing and winner of the Rondo Award for "Best Book of 2005" – is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as these on-line merchants.
The Films of Peter Lorre (1982), also by Youngkin, is out of print, but copies may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble below. Interested in Lorre's radio and television performances? Check out Radio Showcase and Movies Unlimited. Netflix has Lorre movies for rent.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers