Posts Tagged ‘Peter Lorre’

Movie Reviews 435 – M (1931)

May 22, 2020

German expressionist director Fritz Lang will forever be remembered as the man who brought us the silent science fiction classic Metropolis. But sometimes lost in the accolades are the many other remarkable films he gave us, one such being the singular letter titled M.

Starring future Film Noir star Peter Lorre (mister Cairo of The Maltese Falcon fame), M captures a city nearly paralyzed by the spree of a child murderer, the repercussions of which not only touches the routines of the common citizen but also the darker side of humanity. With a police force incapable of making any headway in the case, fears escalate and fingers are pointed for any act that seems out of place, even innocent ones that happen to put adults in contact with any child.

The increased vigilance from both the police and everyday civilians have an unintended but beneficial upshot: the sudden decrease in common crime. As the months drag on the hoodlum gangs feel the pinch and find themselves effectively out of business. But what can they do? The solution is to put their own manpower to do what the authorities seem incapable of doing, and that is to find this elusive child killer themselves.

Lorre plays the guilty party in this tale of vigilantism turned on its head. What begins as an intriguing mystery transforms into social commentary as two criminal elements, the child killer and the gangs who take him on, collide. Which is the greater evil? Lorre, the calculating perpetrator becomes the pitiful troubled soul forced to endure a mock trial, but given the judicial tools and exigencies he would have in a real trial. His prosecutors lay out their argument for punishment as would a bona fide judge and jury. However farcical, the proceedings and consequences are undeniably real. At the core is the argument of insanity pleas and the moral dilemma they present to victims. Lorre is sincere as he pleads the agony of his curse, his inability to control it, and how he himself is haunted by the ghosts of mothers. The final argument that “Nothing will bring the children back” is left to his court, and ours, to decide.

As are many films that emerged from post World War I Germany this film has all the innovative, stunning, avant-garde cinematography first developed by Lang and his colleagues. The German soundtrack just adds to the atmosphere. If you were wondering about that title, the letter is indeed relevant at one point in the story, but I will leave that for viewers to savour.

One of the most interesting features on the Criterion DVD set is an interview of the headstrong Lang, eyesight failing and wearing an eyepatch, recorded just before his passing by Exorcist director William Friedkin. There is also a segment that discusses how the film was edited over the years, some scenes reshot for different languages (Lorre speaking fluently French for that language’s release) and supposedly still missing footage.

Befitting the title, this one gets an “A” regardless of whichever version you come across.

Movie Reviews 431 – The Invisible Man (1933)

April 23, 2020

Even with the limited availability to horror entertainment I had as a kid (in the form of a few comics, some hand-me-down Famous Monsters magazines, newspapers and two black and white TV channels), aside from Godzilla or King Kong, the monsters that gave me prepubescent hard-ons were undoubtedly the Universal studio monsters. But even among those classics there were the top triumvirate of stars, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, and then there were what I consider the second tier in The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And last, but certainly not least there was The Invisible Man.

I’m not quite sure why The Invisible Man always got the short end of the stick when it came to popularity but I would assume that part of the reason was that it becomes a lot trickier trying to market something that you can’t even see. And that’s a shame because it does have a lot going for it.

Claude Rains is no Karloff or Lugosi when it comes to horror film repertoire, but as a mainstream actor his credentials are unquestionable being four time Oscar nominee of many classic films. Oddly enough he was cast here in this starring role, his first American film, solely for his voice, and as you listen to him in the film, you can understand why. Directed by Frankenstein director James Whale, The film was based on the HG Wells novel, but because Wells was unhappy with his adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (filmed as The Island of Lost Souls) he was able to secure control over the script so it is fairly faithful to the source.

The central special effects, not merely makeup and prosthetics, which features a live and moving actor with seemingly invisible portions of his exposed body, required intricate filming techniques and is still remarkably effective today. No shortcuts are taken either as we not only witness articles of clothing coming on and off, but also the removal of rolls of bandages covering his head when not fully invisible. Of course there are also a few gimmick shots like a self propelled bicycle and others.

The mostly serious dramatic approach to the plot has a few well placed and timed comical sequences (shrieks really) highlighted by booze nipping character actress Una O’Connor and some Keystone Cops bungling. The plot, simple enough, is about a scientist who achieves a breakthrough in his research to develop an invisibility agent, but with the unfortunate side effect that it slowly turns him mad (a recurring theme that will remain prevalent in the sequels) and soon has him dreaming of world domination while at the same time seeking a cure to regain opacity – at least at first. His descent into insanity is peppered with maniacal laughs and by the end devolves into power crazed monologues.

My DVD box set from the Universal Monsters Legacy set included the four sequels including The Invisible Man Returns starring Vincent Price in the title role, but who much like Rains in the original we only get a glimpse of him at the very end. The third instalment takes quite a turn in more than one way. The Invisible Woman not only opted for a different perspective in gender, but went out for all comedy in a Three Stooges manner. I’m not kidding as Shemp Howard, the sometime Stooge when the original Curly died, has a minor role in this one. As a comedy you could do worse but it’s too jarring a change to really fit in with the series. It took World War II and patriotism to bring out The Invisible Agent in which the original Invisible man’s grandson disrobes to help the allies’ effort. This marked a return to a serious (if cliché) plot of Nazi maneuvering to get the invisibility serum and Peter Lorre as a Japanese foil. The last of the original series was The Invisible Man’s Revenge, easily the most inferior of the series, presenting a psychotic man who has been wronged by friends and seeking revenge with invisibility bestowed by a scientist. The only redeemable character is the scientist played by John Carradine. This box set also included Now You See Him, a great documentary on the making of the film, somewhat explaining how some of the effects were achieved, as well as some discussion on the sequels.

This film is a horror classic that, counter to the implication of the title, offers a lot more than the eye can see. Well worth a watch.