As mentioned, he may well be been the finest character actor/STAR Hollywood ever produced.
The former Laszlo Lowenstein from somewhere in the old Austro-Hungarian empire was almost as bizarre off screen as he was on — in nearly 155 movie and TV credits spread over two continents and a 35-year career.
That’s quite a bit of work given that Peter Lorre died of a stroke early, at age 59 in 1964.
As much as you might know about this superb actor, we’re hoping that we were able to stump you with our quiz, and perhaps add an informative point or two. (To review the questions, just refer to yesterday’s blog.) Now, on to the answers.
1) Answer: d) Fritz Lang, the director of M, was convinced that Lorre, then an unknown and untried actor of round body and angelic face, would be perfect for the lead as a child murderer. Audiences would believe that no human being looking like Peter Lorre could commit these horrible murders, said Lang. He was right. Lorre’s performance is an unexpected, split personality tour-de-force.
2) Answer: b) David Wayne. The remake directed by Joseph Losey was released by Columbia Pictures in 1951, and was a disaster. The studio wound up pulling the picture, and little has been heard about it since.
3) Answer: a) True. In dire straights with financial, health and marital problems, Lorre took any role in the Sixties he could get. Thus he appeared in a small part in American International Pictures’ Muscle Beach Party in 1964. He died the same year.
4) Answer: c) According to Casablanca costar Paul Henreid, Lorre miked the off-set sexual assignations of the movie’s director Michael Curtiz. Thus his grunts and groans were overheard and greeted with great hilarity by cast and crew without Curtiz’ knowledge. The director never found out who originated the prank.
5) Answer: b) Sydney Greenstreet. He and Lorre worked together in nine films with 1941’s The Maltese Falcon setting the bar. In their own dark ways the pair was equally as amusing as Abbott and Costello.
6) Answer: Lorre was a tad taller, standing 5-feet 3-1/2-inches to Mickey Rooney’s 5-feet 2. Nonetheless, when they costarred in the 1950 thriller Quicksand, it is Rooney who gets to punch out Lorre.
7) Answer: c) The Stranger on the Third Floor, a 64-minute programmer released by RKO in 1940. It remains a startling picture with Lorre playing a reclusive — and very creepy — villain who slits the throats of elderly tenement residents. Writes film noir expert Eddie Muller: This match-up of theme and (visual) style made ‘The Stranger on the Third Floor’ the first Hollywood film to affect the look later known as noir.
8) Answer: a) The Man Who Knew Too Much. We are talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 British original, not his 1956 remake at Paramount costarring James Stewart and Doris Day. During an interview with Hitchcock prior to production, Lorre mastered the trick of smiling and laughing while the director delivered one of his many stories — thus concealing the fact that the actor’s grasp of English was tenuous. After being cast as a villain in The Man Who Knew Too Much, Lorre had to learn much of his part phonetically.
9) Answer: b) Hitchcock noted Lorre’s habit of rehearsing in floor-length overcoats no matter the weather outside.
10) Answer: c) Lorre was married three times. Wife Number 2 was the aforementioned Berlin-born actress, Karen Verne.