Tag Archives: Peter Lorre

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.