Friday, June 26, 2015


Today is Peter Lorre's 111th birthday, or would be if he hadn't died at the age of 59 in 1964. As Don Imus says, you stop having birthdays when you're dead---and Imus being 74 years old, I guess he'll find out soon enough.

I actually like Imus, so don't get on me. One thing he and Peter Lorre (born László Löwenstein) have in common: anyone who's heard them can imitate them. Lorre was quoted as saying, "All that anyone needs to imitate me is two soft-boiled eggs and a bedroom voice."

Come on---look at Lorre's face. Aren't you just ready to start saying, with a crazed and shaky voice, "How can somebody be so stupid!"*

"Hm, what right do I have to think, huh?"**
Old-time movie actors, especially character actors like Lorre, but also many leading men, were not just actors but characters. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart were great actors, but their personal characteristics were seen in every role. Character actors like Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Eugene Pallette, Boris Karloff, and of course Lorre had set characters; they could be comedic, tragic, or even menacing, but they were essentially the same guys. That's why they're so imitable, while actors like Spencer Tracy, who always tried to inhabit their characters, are not. When was the last time you heard someone do a Spencer Tracy imitation?

Does that mean that these old characters were lousy actors? Hardly. Developing a showbiz persona was a feature, not a bug. Even in those days "working actor" was something of an oxymoron; and an actor who was typecast was an actor who was cast. The ability of these character actors to inhabit characters convincingly varied, of course; but the vividness of these actors on screen was always apparent.

So, let's hear your Mark Wahlberg impression. Or Channing Tatum?

Robert Pattinson?

Can you imagine anyof them, or any of the other guys working today, giving justice to a line like:

"You... you bungled it. You and your stupid attempt to buy it. Kemedov found out how valuable it was, no wonder we had such an easy time stealing it. You... you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you!"***

Happy birthday, Mr. Lorre---even if you've stopped having them, we're still enjoying your pictures.


*Arsenic and Old Lace


***The Maltese Falcon

No comments: