Peter Lorre: The Mad and the Bad


On Wednesdays beginning June 20, we will pay tribute to one of cinema history’s most fascinating and compelling performers, the great Peter Lorre (1904-1964). Hungarian born, the naturally intense Lorre exploded onto movie screens as a haunted and hunted child killer in Fritz Lang’s German masterpiece M in 1931. Emigrating to the U.S. in the mid-1930s, Lorre used his large, expressive eyes and uniquely accented speech to his advantage, appearing in dozens of Hollywood productions over 30 years as both leading man and supporting player. This selection of quintessential Lorre roles demonstrates his oft-caricatured, yet inimitable style of transforming traditionally two-dimensional movie villains into recognizable and frequently sympathetic humans through equal doses of dry, sardonic humor and passionate outbursts. The series also includes Lorre’s lone directorial effort, The Lost One.

  • Wed., Jun. 20 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Hungarian immigrant Janos Szabo (Lorre) is horribly burned in a NYC rooming house. Unable to find work and seeking the funds for plastic surgery, he soon becomes a mask-donning master thief. When he finds love with a blind girl (Keyes), Szabo has second thoughts about his criminal activities. Lorre’s remarkable performance in this terrific horror/noir hybrid displays his full range of talent. "A marvelous little film...Florey's subtly stylized direction, Planer's superb camerawork and first-rate performances (Lorre, cleverly made up, has rarely been better) weave it into a miracle of tenderness” (Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Horror Films). Preceded by Bugs Bunny in Hare-Raising Hare (1947, 6 min.)

  • Wed., Jun. 20 | 8:30 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

A secret service agent infiltrates a Pacific island prison that is actually a slave racket run by the sadistic and cruel Stephen Danel (Lorre). Lorre brings a touch of Dr. Moreau to this Columbia B-movie treat.

  • Wed., Jun. 27 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

A series of child murders in a German city causes the police to mistakenly crack down on the criminal underworld.  To protect its business, the mob undertakes its own investigation to catch the real culprit. Lorre, in his breakthrough role, plays the driven and surprisingly sympathetic killer.

  • Wed., Jul. 4 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

This charmingly morbid screwball comedy teams up director Capra and leading man Grant for their only film together. The complex story involves two elderly sisters who commit “mercy” killings, Grant as their drama critic nephew, his new bride, and his two brothers – one who is convinced he’s Teddy Roosevelt and the other (Massey) a serial killer on the run with a drunken plastic surgeon played by Lorre. Preceded by Daffy Duck & Dr. Lorre in Birth of a Notion (1947, 7 min., 35mm). Prints courtesy Library of Congress.

  • Wed., Jul. 11 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

In the only feature film he ever directed, Lorre plays a doctor and research scientist working in a post-war refugee camp. The sudden appearance of a former colleague (John) causes Lorre to reflect on his sinister past during the war years. A sometimes shocking stunner, Der Verlorene was a flop with European audiences on its original release and was unseen in the U.S. until 1984. “Visually, [Lorre] combines realism (the many shots of bombed-out Hamburg) and expressionism; you’ll notice the strong influence of Lang and Pabst” (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic). 35mm print courtesy Goethe Institut.

  • Wed., Jul. 18 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Lorre is the title character and a newspaper reporter’s chief suspect in a murder case. This crazily inventive and expressionistic thriller helped lay the groundwork for the classic Hollywood film noir style. “Latvian émigré director plays up the mental anguish of the hero through flashbacks, subjective voice-over, and a stylized dream sequence reminiscent of avant-garde European Cinema” (David Bordwell, Reinventing Hollywood). Print courtesy Library of Congress.

  • Wed., Jul. 18 | 8:30 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Lorre is Hillary Cummins, devoted assistant to concert pianist Francis Ingram and a dabbler in the occult. After Ingram meets a tragic end, the severed hand from his corpse appears to be responsible for a number of murders at a remote Italian villa. Lavishly directed on a B-budget by the stylish Florey, The Beast is also marked by one of Lorre’s most intense, tormented portrayals. Print courtesy Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research.

  • Wed., Jul. 25 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Bogart is Dashiell Hammett’s detective Sam Spade, and not about to play the sap for anyone. In a labyrinthine plot involving false identities, trans-continental smuggling, and murder, Spade meets an eccentric crew of antique hunters (Sydney Greenstreet, Lorre, and Astor) all looking for the title bird, which, like Huston’s detective noir classic, is “the stuff dreams are made of”. Print courtesy Library of Congress.