Friday, February 24, 2023

Peter Lorre as Hamlet?

Youngkin, Stephen D. The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

I've recently become interested in Peter Lorre again. This time, instead of just re-watching  Casablanca or Arsenic and Old Lace, I decided to read a biography.

And what a biography I found! Stephen Youngkin's The Lost One is an astonishingly-detailed and utterly fascinating account of the varied and complex life of Peter Lorre.

By its means, I learned two things I did not know before, and they both have to do with Shakespeare.

The first is what Peter Lorre said in a discussion about why he was typecast—why he never got an important role.

Lorre asked if they meant something like Hamlet. And then . . . well, read on to see what happened (from pages 82–83) . . .

I, for one, would be very happy with a Hamlet with just the Gravedigger . . . as long as the Gravedigger was played by Peter Lorre.

The second thing I learned was that Peter Lorre, Bertolt Brecht, and Ferdinand Reyher wrote a screenplay called Lady Macbeth of the Yards (with the alternate working titles of All Our Yesterdays, All Our Yesterdays: Macbeth 1946, and Blood Will Have Blood). It sounds absolutely fabulous, and I only wish it had been made into a film (this is from pages 275–77):

Ah, Hollywood. Why did you green-light other projects in 1946 (not naming any names) but cancel this one?

But instead of continuing to complain, I'll start trying to see if the screenplay is extant anywhere. 

Click below to purchase the biography from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Thom Verratti said...

So interesting, BF -- I love it when Lorre pops up in any role anywhere, and it's fascinating to imagine him in these roles that never happened. Have you seen him in the first _Man Who Knew Too Much_ (1934)? Obviously people prefer Hitchcock's own remake but Lorre is so perfect in the original. I wish he'd had more serious dramatic roles especially later in his career.

kj said...

You mean you don't consider Comedy of Terrors to be dramatic?

Yes, the first Man Who Knew Too Much that I saw was the 1934 one. That's the one I recall (though the later one has much better production values).

On my list for watching (or re-watching) are M, Comedy of Terrors (for the Shakespeare), and The Raven.

Thanks, Thom Verratti!


Thom Verratti said...

(I'm going to keep calling you "BF" because it's so much more mysterious sounding than "kj," BF...)

Criterion has a fantastic edition of the Lorre Man Who Knew Too Much (as I'm sure you know).

I am lucky (lucky! or just spendy?) enough to have the three Vincent Price collections from Shout! Factory (I think the first two or all three are out of print) so I've got great copies of the Lorre performances there. Though -- those "Poe" "comedies" are a little tough to get through. Again feels like a bit of a waste esp. since I think Price and Lorre were both capable of being actually really funny! With good writing.

Here's a Lorre performance that I loved as a kid, own now and am way overdue to rewatch: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the first Disney live-action full-length films ever and very possibly still the best of all. (Sorry, That Darn Cat!.) Peter Lorre plus Kirk Douglas playing the ukulele -- what could possibly be better than that?!

kj said...

Thanks, TV (returning the favor) . . . except that BF can stand for Best Friend as well as Bardfilm, and I don't know what else TV could stand for. Tuberculosis Vaccine, perhaps?

I was just at a conference where someone spoke on the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and that (combined with a renewed interest in Peter Lorre) led me to request the film from my local library.

I'll let you know if I find any Shakespeare in it! I don't think Shakespeare ever mentions giant squid, but he's aware of the leviathan:

Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league. —Midsummer Night's Dream

Thanks again!


Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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