Monday, October 18, 2010

Peter Lorre as Galy Gay (1931)

Peter Lorre, who would star in films ranging from Fritz Lang's M and the "Mr. Moto" series to Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, played Galy Gay in the 1931 Berlin production of Man Equals Man.

Lorre as Galy Gay is second from the left. The production was designed by Brecht's frequent collaborator, Caspar Neher.

In discussing Lorre's relationship with Brecht, biographer Stephen D. Youngkin says:
Lorre saw Brecht as one of the two most important writers in the 20th century, the other being James Joyce. This was the pivotal relationship in his life. He not only referred to Brecht as his best friend, but as himself as one of Brecht's actors. Without understanding Brecht, you can't understand Lorre. Some people have found Brechtian elements in Lorre's acting style. Well, I guess you can find anything if you look hard enough. It's a chicken and the egg argument.

When I first interviewed Brecht scholar Eric Bentley, I naturally asked about Brecht's influence on Lorre. He told me it was actually the other way around, that Brecht saw actors he liked, things they were doing – in Lorre's case, the clashing of opposite characteristics, doing two things at once – and formed those aspects into a new style of acting. Lorre was just doing what he had always been doing. It was an incredibly adaptable form. The same style could easily be plugged into different holes and given a new name, a new theoretical label. So, in a sense, Lorre's performances were Brechtian by default, before we – or he – knew the use of the word.

Pop Culture Reference: Peter Lorre's distinctive look and vocal style are still imitated more than 40 years after his death. "The Maggot" in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is a direct impersonation of Lorre.

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