L.A. Brecht


Der Verlorene (1951)

From the New Left Review:

Among the exiles Brecht found in Hollywood was his old co-worker, Peter Lorre, who, in 1926, had played the principal role in Mann ist Mann, giving a performance that Brecht considered paradigmatic for the epic theatre. Brecht wrote a couple of ‘film stories’ for Lorre in the hope of finding work for himself, but nothing came of them. After ending his association with Brecht in 1929, Lorre had had to wait something over a year before Fritz Lang handed him the script of his film M in which Lorre was to star as a child-murderer, giving an unforgettable performance, one of the greatest in the history of film. After leaving Germany Lorre travelled, via England, to Los Angeles, where his career began to founder as he became type-cast as a grotesque in a series of trashy B pictures. In fact, the first Peter Lorre film released after Brecht’s arrival was the one which marked a crucial turning-point in his career—John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon. This was to be followed within a few months by Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. Lorre was devoted to Brecht, pushing his projects with producers, advancing him money when there was urgent need for it. Then, when Lorre’s new wave of success turned sour, Warner Brothers let his contract expire in 1946 and his image deteriorated again into that of the ludicrous clown, Brecht tried to raise his spirits by bringing him projects, assuring him of his greatness as an actor, re-building his morale as he had Laughton’s. Lorre’s greatest work was still to come. In 1949 he returned to Germany and eventually managed to direct his most extraordinary film Der Verlorene, released in 1951, in which he also starred, playing a mass murderer again, this time explicitly a Nazi. Der Verlorene, however, reflects the influence of Brecht more than that of Lang. Four years later, Charles Laughton made his solitary film, Night of the Hunter, equally extraordinary in conception and execution. It is hard to watch these films without thinking about the determining role played by Brecht in their directors’ lives.

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