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December 2nd, 2008
Biography: Peter Lorre

Biography by Gerd Gemünden
Professor of German Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Comparative Literature
Dartmouth College

(b. Rózsahegy, Hungary 1904 – d. Hollywood 1964)

Peter Lorre citizenship application

Photo from Lorre’s application for U.S. citizenship.

Click to see the application.

Born as Ladislav Loewenstein. Actor. Interested in the theater from early on, Lorre acted on various stages in Breslau, Zurich and Vienna before coming to Berlin in 1929 when Bertolt Brecht invited him to play the role of Fabian in his production of Marieluise Fleißer’s Pioniere in Ingolstadt. Performances in Dantons Tod and Frühlings Erwachen followed. 1931 proved to be the year of Lorre’s breakthrough. Playing Gala Gay in Brecht’s own production of Mann ist Mann at night, Lorre would stand in front of the cameras of Fritz Lang during the day in the role of the child murderer Hans Beckert in the director’s first sound feature, M. The success of the film turned Lorre into an international film star; after M he appeared in eight more German films, often in smaller comical roles.

In 1933, Lorre emigrated via the much-traveled route first to Vienna, then Paris, then London, before reaching the US through a contract with Columbia Pictures. Known in the United States primarily for his performances as the child murderer in M and as the anarchist in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Lorre was typecast from the beginning of his U.S. career as a menacing and enigmatic presence, often as a sexual threat or outsider. His most successful period was at Warner Bros. where he appeared next to Humphey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet in numerous films of the 1940s, most notably Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942). In the 1950s his career declined, and he returned to Germany to make his only film as director, Der Verlorene (1951). Disillusioned by the lack of success he returned to Hollywood where he would appear in endless self-parodies on film and television.

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