Tag Archives: Peter Lorre

Let’s Give a Big Hand to Orlac

Movie night!

We think of Hammer Films and we think of Dracula and Frankenstein and strawberry-red blood dripping on otherwise pristine sets in sunglass-required lighting that comes from everywhere and nowhere in particular. But even as these money-making machines were being crafted, Shepperton Studios was cranking a bunch of other films just as interesting…if not as lucrative.

This is one of them. THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960), directed by Edmond T. Gréville, is another retelling of the transplanted hands saga and not the best of that gruesome genre. That dubious award would go to Peter Lorre’s MAD LOVE (1935) in my book.

But THE HANDS OF ORLAC is a pretty entertaining flick. It is encumbered by a somnambulant performance by Mel Ferrer, but it features a nice turn by Christopher Lee as a blackmailing stage magician. Lee’s character shrieks a ridiculous wild laugh (always wisely off-camera) that sounds like a cross between Snidely Whiplash and the happily surreal cackle preceding the Ventures’ “Wipe Out,” (which, I understand was inspired by one of the Maddox Brothers). Whew, that last sentence should give everyone fun things to google.

Even better than Mr. Lee’s performance are the ladies in the flick. I thought I had never heard of Lucile Saint-Simon before, but I see that she’s also in a blade-filled Italian giallo from 1963; THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG (more tamely released in the US as HORROR CASTLE), directed by sanguinary maestro Antonio Margheriti and also featuring a murderous Christopher Lee. I remember being moderately engaged by the flick a few years ago, but I’m gonna have to watch it again now. Ms. Saint-Simon is sympathetic and rocks her negligee, though the backlighting in this effort is insufficient to satisfy my more demanding geezer cineastes. Dany Carrel, however, more than makes up for that technical deficiency. Her night club act with Chris Lee is eye-popping…literally. The white-haired guys in the audience are dropping their monocles and checking their pacemakers.

And in addition to those actors, a small appearance by the ubiquitous Donald Pleasence provides a coup de gross for the evening.

The ending ties things up in a way-too-convenient way. You might call it a deux-et-manicure copout.

But I liked it.

Mr. Moto’s Last Warning

Movie night!

The year; 1939.

The challenge; can you take a cast consisting of Peter Lorre, George Sanders, Ricardo Cortez, John Carradine, and Robert E. Lee’s cousin (Virginia Field) and prevent World War II?

Well yes you can……at least for a year or two.

It’s exotic, it’s silly, it’s Mr. Moto’s Last Warning.

Points of interest for this Z-movie freak;

  • Virginia Field made a mini career of working with Asian detectives played by non-Asian actors. She appeared in three Mr. Moto flicks and a Charlie Chan.
  • Ricardo Cortez is always a charming villain; always. As an actor…Ricardo Cortez is always a charming villain.
  • In this epic, Mr. Cortez pumps air to an underwater diver with one hand while watching the French fleet though binoculars with the other and all the while his double-Windsor-knotted cravat and his Panama are never compromised. What style!
  • But that’s lollygaggin’ compared Mr. Moto, our persistently bespectacled hero. Mr. Moto dives underwater (in his eyeglasses), KO’s George Sanders underwater (still in his eyeglasses), blows up the enemy land mines underwater (yes, still in his eyeglasses), climbs out of the water onto the dock (you guessed it, still…), beats up Ricardo Cortez, disarrays his Panama and double-Windsor, and flings him into the Mediterranean (IN HIS EYEGLASSES!) It’s an astounding spectacle (see what I did there?).

I loved it.

Looking for Mr. Wong

Movie night and a lovely evening for another stroll through Poverty Row; the low-budget side of Hollywood.

Asian detectives were plentiful and standard fare for movie-goers in the 30’s and 40’s. They remain so today for me. Charlie Chan (either Warner Oland or Sidney Toler), Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto, and Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong are all welcome to solve my homicidal conundrums. All of those actors are improbable, occasionally silly, and delightful. None of them of course are actually Asian…go figure. But then, the last Pad Thai we ordered was of dubious ethnicity now that I think of it.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939) offers us all that foolishness in big servings;

  • Our Asian detective is played by an Englishman with a Russian-sounding name. Oh yeah…I’m buyin’ that.
  • Thrilling quote #1; “Then it was deliberate murder.” (Is there really any other kind?)
  • Thrilling quote #2; “He’s absolutely trustworthy, completely devoted to me.” (I’d be slappin’ the cuffs on him pronto.)
  • Boris Karloff’s make-up looks more like it’s from Madame Tussaud’s than Nanking.
  • Thrilling quote #3; “You know something, but you hold your tongue in more than one language.” (I know there’s wisdom in there somewhere but it plumb evades me.)
  • The clock strikes three a.m. in the film, but when Mr. Wong emerges from his bedroom at the police detective’s summons, he’s wearing his dressing gown and a perfectly knotted tie. Classy. Of questionable sleeping hygiene, but definitely classy.
  • The McGuffin in this flick is “The Eye of the Daughter of the Moon” – not quite as catchy as “The Maltese Falcon”.

What fiddle-faddle.

I loved it.

The Mask of Dimitrios

Movie night!

At the prompting of my erudite friend Walter Tunis, I watched TCM’s showing of Three Strangers (1946). While I wasn’t as taken with the film or Geraldine Fitzgerald’s performance as Eddie Muller, I was quite arrested by Joan Lorring’s portrayal of Icey.

And of course seeing Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet together again reminded me…

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) features one of my favorite acting teams. Unlike Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers they don’t dance and sing. Unlike William Powell and Myrna Loy they are not rich and in love with each other. Unlike Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis they are not stupid.

Greenstreet and Lorre could not be more unlike. Nor could their differences be more delightful.

Greenstreet and Lorre don’t even appear together in the same scene in a movie sometimes Casablanca (1942) comes to mind. Lorre squirms, fawns, and dies in Rick’s Café Americaine long before we see Greenstreet fleecing foreigners and swatting flies (with similar personal involvement, I might point out) in the Blue Parrot.

In The Maltese Falcon (1941), Greenstreet; “…likes talking to a man who likes to talk…”, while Lorre complains; “…you’ll understand our conversations have not been such that I wish to continue them.” The chemistry between them is sizzling…like Oliver and Hardy…but with real bullets.

In Dimitrios, the bullets are indeed real. The stakes are sinister and high. The rooms are exquisite and bright, as are the wits. The stairs outside are dark and ominous, as are the intentions. The disgraced remain disgraced. The dead remain…or do they?

Frank Capra can stay home on this one. Ain’ no angels earnin’ wings ‘round these parts.

In these waters, Greenstreet and Lorre swim for their lives while criss-crossing Europe in sleeper cars, sipping champagne, and lookin’ fine in their threads.

If these two fine character actors are both in a flick, you can bet with confidence that the flick is gonna be interesting. The Mask of Dimitrios is exactly that.

I really like this one.