Peter Lorre Season at BFI Southbank

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Peter Lorre Season at BFI Southbank

  • 2 Sep 2014 — 7 Oct 2014
Peter Lorre
Peter Lorre

BFI Southbank

Belvedere RoadSouth BankLondon SE1 8XT


T +44 (0)20 7928 3232

Although frequently typecast as a villain, Peter Lorre was a master of ambiguity whose complex, subtle art demands closer inspection.

Fifty years after his death, Peter Lorre remains one of the best loved brands in movie history: the softly spoken villain with the protruding eyes who lurks in the shadows of countless Hollywood tales of terror, crime and espionage. His starring roles were few, but his presence on any cast list is a guarantee of pleasure.

We think we know what to expect from him, but his genius lies in his ability to keep us guessing. Born László Loewenstein in the small town of Rószahegy (Hungary), Lorre won critical acclaim for his theatre work with Brecht and international fame for his first major film role as the serial killer in Fritz Lang’s M. He managed to flee Hitler’s Germany and spent most of his career in Hollywood exile, but he never could shake off the sinister image with which Lang had stamped him. Frustrated in his ambitions, he applied his considerable artistry to the portrayal of spies, murderers and madmen.

Key to Lorre’s approach is his talent for understatement, so greatly prized by Brecht and Hitchcock. His ambiguous restraint compels attention, enabling him to turn up the volume either suddenly or by degrees, springing surprises and heightening suspense. Add to this an undercurrent of dark, mischievous humour and you can never be quite sure where his characters stand. His face, a canvas of fluctuating emotions, is fascinating to observe, if not always easy to read. His mellifluous, insinuating voice, with its distinctive Middle European cadence, is remarkable for its range of nuanced expression. In The Lost One, his only film as director, made in post-war Germany, we glimpse his untapped potential – no longer the evil or comic foreigner as he tackles a complex, multi-layered role, articulate and at ease in his native tongue.

This selection from his vast filmography shows how Lorre both exploited and subverted his image. It also reveals a versatility which stretches to comedy, adventure and even a Fred Astaire musical. One thing is sure: the moment Lorre appears on screen – even in the background, fiddling with a cigarette – all eyes are instantly upon him.

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