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.
The Independent (on-line edition); United Kingdom:
Christmas Special: Film Books Reviewed
They don't make 'em like blanched weasels any more
. . . Few modern cinemagoers will have seen Warren Beatty on the big screen, which means The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen Youngkin (Kentucky �24.95) will probably be of interest only to older fans. A pity, as this biography of the Hungarian-born actor is a knockout, charting his arrival in America, his typecasting as a sinister outsider and his "greylisting" by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, before heading to Germany to direct the audience-alienating film of the title. Lorre, whose gargoyle features masked a charming, effete nature, and whose drug use extended from a poor self-image, is memorably described here as "a blanched weasel" who could turn even the simple act of smoking into a menacing art. Lorre's acting subtleties were eventually lost in pantomimic roles, but the fact that he became a Hollywood legend says much about the vivacity of his performances, long after the films themselves were forgotten . . . — Reviewed by Christopher Fowler; December 11, 2005
The Australian News; Sydney, Australia:
"I WAS the hottest thing on the Berlin stage," Peter Lorre told me when I interviewed him in 1963 on the set of The Comedy of Terrors just a few months before his death. I'll never forget his enormous eyes; together, they resembled two poached eggs. He seemed pleased, in the context of the cheap and silly film in which he was then appearing, to be afforded a chance to talk about Bertolt Brecht, a seminal influence in his life, and about his time as a serious actor in pre-Nazi Germany. The contrast with the sad, bloated clown he had become was telling.
One chief merit of Stephen Youngkin's superb biography, The Lost One, is its focus on Lorre's German stage work, which encompassed, besides Brecht's, works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, Frank Wedekind and John Galsworthy. It's salutary to be reminded of this, given the caricature figure he later became in America, the butt of countless imitators and a stereotyped weirdo. Born Laszlo Loewenstein in 1904, Lorre's international breakthrough came with his riveting performance as the child killer Hans Beckert in Fritz Lang's film M (1931), a role in which he deployed his offbeat looks and sinister voice to create a memorable monster.
From there he was invited to England by Alfred Hitchcock to appear in The Man Who Knew Too Much and Secret Agent, and to Hollywood to play the demented Dr Gogol in Mad Love (1935), the first of a succession of horror movies to exploit his special qualities.
Youngkin tends to agree with those who maintain that Lorre sold out to Hollywood, trading his status as a serious actor for that of celebrity. I think this is only partly true. We need only recall his slimy Ugarte in Casablanca, his effete Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon, his subtle Cornelius Leyden in The Mask of Dimitrios, his ailing Contreras in Graham Greene's Confidential Agent, or especially his Professor Koenig in Vicki Baum's Hotel Berlin – frantically and vainly overturning furniture in search of a "good German" – to acknowledge his ongoing commitment to his art.
As well, there was Der Verlorene (The Lost One), the film he returned to Germany in 1951 to co-write, direct and star in, as further proof of his artistic integrity. That it wasn't very good and consequently failed at the box office probably accounts for Lorre afterwards seeming only to go through the motions of acting.
But there were other factors, notably his lifelong addiction to morphine, which often necessitated institutionalised "cures", his three unsuccessful marriages, his pursuit by the FBI as a suspected communist in the '50s, and an alarming weight problem that saw him balloon into the roly-poly ruin of his last years.
He was only 59 when he died insolvent in 1964. Most of his professional colleagues considered his career characterised by a tragic sense of waste, of misused or under-used talent. Youngkin's biography, 30 years in the writing, will surely remain definitive. Its level of scholarship is unusual in books of this kind, even if he does misspell Fredric March's first name and misattributes Australian-born composer Arthur Benjamin's Stormcloud Cantata used in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much to Vaughan Williams. An intriguing local footnote is the disclosure that Lorre's father, Alajos Loewenstein, apparently spent his final years from 1949 until his death in 1958 in Sydney. — Reviewed by Joel Greenberg; January 21, 2006
On stage, actors are gods; they can be all that they can be. But the screen is a mirror, not a stage, and there actors are reflexive creations of audiences. Their projection goes no further than viewers. Not everyone can be Rhett Buttler or Scarlet O'Hara. And although racial barriers have been broken on film, physical characteristics limit popular culture perceptions. Movie stars are expected to play the screen persona they have created. This has bearing on this encompassing biography because Lorre was both character actor and star, playing roles including the child-killer in Fritz Lang's M, Raskolnikov in Josef von Sternberg's Crime and Punishment, and the raven in The Raven (1963), Roger Corman's film of the Edgar Allan Poe tale. Youngkin's massive biography has more than 150 pages of credits, filmography, and bibliography; footnotes citing more than 300 interviews; and a trove of unusual black-and-white photographs, beautifully reproduced. Though others [sic] books have catalogued Lorre's work, this is the first volume to intensify the mirrored image of the singularly interesting character actor – the first to penetrate the inner persona separated from the public image. Though intended as a film resource, this book also serves as model for students of biography.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, through faculty and professionals; general readers. — Reviewed by A. Hirsch, emeritus, Central Connecticut State University; 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.
Amazon U.S. – Hard-Cover
Amazon Canada – Hard-Cover
Amazon Canada – Soft-bound
Amazon U.K. – Soft-bound
Amazon U.K. – Hard-Cover
University Press of Kentucky
Barnes & Noble – Nook and Hard-bound