Posts Tagged ‘ The Man Who Knew Too Much ’

Peter Lorre: The Aggressive Mimicry of His Defining Roles

Great villains have the ability to attract and destroy. Like predators in the wild, these characters trick their prey  by posing as something familiar, harmless, or friendly. It’s a form of aggressive mimicry. These monsters of reality and fiction hunt without the world knowing it, a quality Peter Lorre brings to his performances, ensnaring the audience with unpredictable characters. The dangerous and unassuming  Lorre made the most bizarre and terrifying characters unbelievably magnetic.

Lorre’s career has been defined by several iconic roles: the first being in Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece, M. And while his face remains confined to the film’s conclusion, his presence in the film is undeniable. Mostly heard offscreen enchanting children with a wholesome whistle, Lorre remains in the shadows for much of the film’s runtime. The once banal act of whistling shifts the atmosphere. The killer approaches and dread takes over.

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200 Words or Less: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

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The Man Who Knew Too Much is Hitchcock’s first crack at this story; he would later remake with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day in 1956. There’s still a lot to like in this one—though, most of that has to do with one creepy performance from Peter Lorre. Having recently escaped the Nazi Germany, Lorre couldn’t even speak English when Hitchcock cast him as this skunk haired deviant. Nevertheless, he turned in a supremely weird performance that both harkens to his child-hunter in M and the future-weirdo Joel Cairo.

The Man Who Knew Too Much follows a family of clay pigeon shooters and wealthy cynics who have their daughter kidnapped after stumbling on a clue in a dead secret agent’s hotel room. To get her back, the girl’s parents must keep their mouth shut long enough for a pack of gang of political activists to, well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

This is Hitchcock before he really got rolling. With an early use of his “Accidental Secret Agent” plot, Hitch does what he does best, though, in more primitive form. Still, the twists, laughs, and suspense are all there. And at 75 minutes, it’s definitely worth your time.