Peter Lorre

Photograph: Peter Lorre
The actor Peter Lorre, 1930s
Deutsche Kinemathek

Peter Lorre

Höre, wir rufen dich zurück. Verjagter / Jetzt sollst Du wiederkommen. Aus dem Land / Da einst Milch und Honig geflossen ist / Bist Du verjagt worden. Zurückgerufen / Wirst Du in das Land, das zerstört ist. / Und nichts anderes mehr / Können wir Dir bieten, als dass du gebraucht wirst. / Arm oder reich / Gesund oder krank / Vergiss alles / Und komm.

Listen, we are calling you back/ Once driven out / now you should return. From the land / where milk and honey once flowed / you were driven out. You are being called back / to the country which has been destroyed. / And nothing more / have we to offer you, other than that you are needed. / Poor or rich / healthy or infirm / forget everything / and come.

Bertolt Brecht: To the actor P. L. in exile (1950)

Bornon 26 June 1904 in Rosenberg, Austria-Hungary, today: Austria
Diedon 23 March 1964 in Los Angeles, USA
ExileUnited States of America
RemigrationFederal Republic of Germany
ProfessionActor, Screenwriter, Film director

Until 1931, when the film director Fritz Lang gave him his signature role in M, except for two small supporting roles in silent films, Peter Lorre had only acted in the theatre. He had contracts in theatres in Wroclaw, Zurich, Vienna and Bertolt Brecht's theatre on the Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin. His portrayal of a child murderer made him a film star overnight. He left Germany in 1933 and thereby evaded physical persecution. The Nazis found other means to persecute him however. The propaganda films Juden ohne Maske (Jews Unmasked; 1937) and Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew, 1940) show excerpts from M as if Lorre is not playing a role, but is in reality a sexual pervert. 

The actor went to Vienna, Paris and finally to London, where he appeared before the camera under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. He travelled to the United States in 1934 and found employment in Hollywood quickly – he was famous there from M. As a result of this, he was frequently typecast in the same role. Lorre, who was 1.65 meters tall, played devious criminals or the mentally ill, or in any case, the villain. The Mr. Moto detective films, produced from 1937, were an exception to this. Lorre moved back to Germany in 1950. But after the film Der Verlorene (The Lost One; 1951), for which he worked as director and star, fell flat with audiences, he returned to the United States where he worked until his death in theatre, television and film productions.

Selected works:
M (1931)
Mad Love (1935)
Crime and Punishment (1935)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Der Verlorene (1951)

Further reading:
Weniger, Kay: „Es wird im Leben dir mehr genommen als gegeben…“. Lexikon der aus Deutschland und Österreich emigrierten Filmschaffenden 1933 bis 1945. Eine Gesamtübersicht. Hamburg: Acabus 2011, S. 320 – 322