Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre

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The Maltese Falcon Review

The proof that some films are simply immune to satire or the wear and tear of time is fully contained in the sharp little diamond of cinema that is John Huston's 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon. (Dashiell Hammett's novel was actually filmed twice before, under the same title in 1931 and as Satan Met a Lady in 1936 with Bette Davis.) All the recognizable private detective flick elements are here, from the wisecracking P.I. himself to the femme fatale, scurrilous mugs who are too quick with their guns and too slow with their brains, and the McGuffin itself, a 400-year old statue of inestimable value. But even though these stock devices have become so well-worn over the intervening years with mockery or tribute, this remains a highly entertaining thing of beauty, done with skill and economy, not to mention smarts: none of which are things much in evidence today.

Smarts is ultimately what separates Bogart's Sam Spade as clearly from the rest of the characters in Maltese Falcon just as it separates the film itself from most of its inferior imitators. Spade is the eagle-eyed watcher, a calloused and borderline morally indifferent student of humanity who seems to get his kicks tossing verbal banana peels out for the more dim-witted to trip themselves up on. He has plenty of opportunity for such sparrings, dropped as he is into a mess of scam-artists and treasure hunters violently turning San Francisco upside down as they hunt for a long-lost jewel-studded falcon supposedly once given by the crusading Knights Hospitaller to the Holy Roman Emperor in exchange for the island of Malta. The world around Spade -- a sort of aloof knight errant in fedora and sharp suit -- is one of manipulation and lies, stupidity, and the occasional cleverness dulled by unlimited greed.

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20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Review

Even grander and more rambling than Swiss Family Robinson, Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea simultaneously sets a bar for both child-friendly epicness and overblown goofiness. On one hand there's the classic attack of a giant squid, on the other there's hokey moments with a singing Kirk Douglas and natives doing a hot-foot dance as they're electrocuted on a trap.

Corny, but I guess that's what Jules Verne wrote back in the mid-1800s. The hot-foot dance hadn't become a cliche yet.

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Beat The Devil Review

This understated comedy is often a love-it-or-hate-it affair with viewers, a very dry satire that often flies over the heads of its target (Bogart-style mysteries) and, just as often, its audience. Which just goes to show it's really difficult to spoof yourself, as Bogart proves when he plays the lead in Beat the Devil.

Essentially a revision of a dozen or so Bogie movies, all mashed together, Beat the Devil follows a group of miscreant adventurers on a quest to secure a parcel of land in Africa which is rich in uranium. Naturally, events and foes conspire against them, culminating in their arrest.

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Stranger On The Third Floor Review

Widely considered the first film noir, Stranger on the Third Floor is a breezy, strange journey through one man's mind and the American penal system, to boot. McGuire, a star newspaper reporter, witnesses the aftermath of a murder, then is suspected himself when a second killing takes place. What's Peter Lorre doing lurking about? Well, he's the stranger. Barely an hour long, the movie is masterfully photographed but hastily thrown together, with a resolution that makes you wonder how noir ever got off the ground.

M Review

Critic David Thomson called him "the squat, wild-eyed spirit of ruined Europe, shyly prowling in and out of Warner Brothers shadows, muttering fiercely to himself." The Peter Lorre thus described was the Hollywood character actor familiar to Americans for his buggy looks of astonishment and his singular, rasping speech. But the wild-eyed spirit Thomson writes of first exhibited itself in Germany, before Lorre and director Fritz Lang fled that country's Nazis, in the 1931 Lang masterpiece M.

The "M" stands for "murderer" in either language, and the film is loosely based on the actual case of a Düsseldorf child killer named Peter Kurten. (His name was later borrowed for Copycat.) The plot of M echoes the fascination with shadowy syndicates and underworld figures that Lang exhibited in earlier films such as the Dr. Mabuse pieces and Spies: When a police dragnet for the child murderer upsets normal criminal activities, the criminals themselves organize and track the suspect down, labeling him, without his being aware of it, with a chalk "M" on the back of his coat.

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Casablanca Review

"Play it again, Sam." Well, those lines aren't in Casablanca, but the words "Bogie and Bergman" rank just below "Bogie and Bacall" when it comes to famous celebrity film pairings. Sometimes a kiss isn't just a kiss -- in this case, it's forever. And it was certainly the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

A new double-disc DVD of Casablanca enhances the film for novelists and cineastes alike. I rarely do this, but I listened to Roger Ebert's entire commentary track, which he uses to discuss the film's curious shortcomings (what good would letters of transit signed by Charles de Gaulle be in getting you out of Morocco?), Bogart's past and rise to fame (this being his first starring role), Bergman and her foibles, endless points about the film's dozen or so famous lines, and extended commentary on the lighting, special effects (if you can call them that), and camerawork.

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Tales Of Terror Review

Three more Twice-Told Tales from Edgar Allen Poe's works, all starring Vincent Price. Only the second is worth watching -- an odd, but effective combination of "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado" -- with Peter Lorre stealing the show as the madman who walls up his archrival and wife in the cellar, only to be undone by a meowing cat. Worth watching for this half hour alone, but skip the rest.
Peter Lorre

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