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Peter Lorre: Face Maker

Peter Lorre: Face Maker: Constructing Stardom and Performance in Hollywood and Europe

Sarah Thomas
Series: Film Europa
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Peter Lorre: Face Maker
    Book Description:

    Peter Lorre described himself as merely a 'face maker'. His own negative attitude also characterizes traditional perspectives which position Lorre as a tragic figure within film history: the promising European artist reduced to a Hollywood gimmick, unable to escape the murderous image of his role in Fritz Lang'sM.This book shows that the life of Peter Lorre cannot be reduced to a series of simplistic oppositions. It reveals that, despite the limitations of his macabre star image, Lorre's screen performances were highly ambitious, and the terms of his employment were rarely restrictive. Lorre's career was a complex negotiation between transnational identity, Hollywood filmmaking practices, the ownership of star images and the mechanics of screen performance.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-442-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Vincent Price’s summation of Peter Lorre’s legacy is a key observation that illustrates dominant perceptions surrounding the life and work of Lorre. Although the function of Price’s reflection is to introduce a populist biographical sketch of Lorre’s career by a fellow actor and friend (who costarred with Lorre on five occasions), rather than to provide sustained critical analysis, it nevertheless makes a highly indicative statement concerning the way in which the work of performers who achieve a certain level of celebrity – as Lorre did – can be interpreted and analysed within critical discourses.¹ Price’s elegiac commentary foregrounds the role played by...

  6. Chapter 1 Lorre and the European Stage(1922–1931)
    (pp. 15-32)

    The initial part of this chapter will cover the non-cinematic aspects of Lorre’s work, through his theatrical career (antecedent to his on-screen fame) in the experimental atmosphere of the theatres of central Europe throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, concentrating on the two figures of Bertolt Brecht and Jacob Levi Moreno – prior to the release ofM(1931). An analysis of the developmental stages of Lorre’s acting career and the potential recognition of a dominant non-naturalistic performative style preferred by the actor also enables a more balanced interpretation of his cinematic labour and experiences. The latter part of the chapter...

  7. Chapter 2 M, Fritz Lang and Hans Beckert (1931)
    (pp. 33-50)

    When studying the career of Peter Lorre, particular prominence must be given to Lorre’s first major screen role: Hans Beckert, the serial killer at the centre of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film,M(Nero-Film). More than any other role, Beckert has come to be seen as the character which had the biggest impact on Lorre’s life – both in terms of his continued employment in the film industry and also in the way that this character contributed to the development of Lorre’s otherwise extra-filmic persona.

    Throughout Lorre’s internationally successful career, and up to the present day, attitudes towards the actor found in...

  8. Chapter 3 The Hollywood Leading Roles (1935–1941)
    (pp. 51-80)

    Peter Lorre moved to Hollywood in 1934, having accepted a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures that same year. He had left central Europe the year before, leaving Vienna after completing the Austrian film,Unsichtbare Gegner(Invisible Opponent), as the threat to Jewish personnel from the Nazi regime increased. Lorre went first to Paris, where he had a cameo in G.W. Pabst’s film,Du Haut en Bas(From Top to Bottom) (1933). He then moved on to London, where he appeared inThe Man Who Knew Too Much(1934), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

    AlthoughMis seen as an early defining...

  9. Chapter 4 The Supporting Actor (1941–1946)
    (pp. 81-116)

    Lorre spent five years at Warner Bros. between 1941 and 1946.¹ During this time he made twenty films: fifteen produced by Warner Bros. and five with other major studios or independent companies. This period coinciding with the Second World War was a time of sustained employment for Lorre. It was also the period that Lorre attained his greatest level of celebrity, as the popularity of his on-screen roles was matched by his off-screen presence on radio and in the press, and in the increasing appropriation of his likeness in cartoons and caricatures. In contrast to the level of his fame,...

  10. Chapter 5 Der Verlorene (The Lost One) (1951)
    (pp. 117-136)

    Between 1946 and 1950, in the final months of Lorre’s contract with Warner Bros., and in his tentative return to freelance acting, a lack of artistic direction in the way Lorre was employed and also within the detail of his performances can be observed. By 1946, it also became clear that Warner Bros. were unlikely to deliver on a clause in Lorre’s contract that he had himself insisted upon: the option to direct one film per year.¹ In films such asThe Chase(1946), MyFavorite Brunette(1947) andDouble Confession(1950), a tendency towards self-parody became more prominent which...

  11. Chapter 6 The Final Screen Roles (1954–1964)
    (pp. 137-162)

    In traditional overviews of Peter Lorre’s career, the years between 1954 and 1964 (the year of Lorre’s death) are viewed with a certain sense of embarrassment. It is felt that the once great star of German cinema or the famous supporting actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age suffered a slow drift into the lowest levels of Hollywood mediocrity. This downward trajectory has been seen as the result of two events. The first was Lorre’s permanent return to Hollywood from Germany followingDer Verlorene, a move which implied that his career as a legitimate ‘artist’ stalled, as it had appeared to do...

  12. Chapter 7 Alternative ‘Hollywood’ Media Contexts
    (pp. 163-180)

    Between Europe and Hollywood, Peter Lorre maintained a varied and disparate film career from the 1930s to the 1960s. Specifically within the American studio system structure, he occupied different labour positions, conveyed a range of cultural connotations and played markedly contrasting characters on-screen. In order to compensate for this, ‘Hollywood’ worked to construct a coherent public persona around Peter Lorre, not through its cinematic representations of the actor, but through his employment in associated industries and through the marketing practices of the studios that he was contracted to, in order to maintain his commodity value. The dominant feature of this...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-186)

    In his book,Acting in the Cinema, James Naremore (1988: 63) commented that ‘Peter Lorre was roughly correct when he described the work of movie acting as “face-making”’. Whilst Naremore uses the phrase in a neutral and purely descriptive context to outline what he observes are the inherent physical and gestural qualities of screen acting, the agenda that lay behind Lorre’s repeated application of the phrase was purposefully negative. The term revealed the actor’s apparently disparaging views regarding his own career as Lorre publicly characterized certain examples of his own screen work as ‘just’ making faces. This statement was firmly...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-206)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 207-214)