fter a couple of minor films, the German actor Peter Lorre established himself as a film star in Fritz Lang's 1931 film M with a memorable performance as a child murderer hunted by both the police and criminals. His success took him to Hollywood, where he played colourful villains in many films - most famously in The Maltese Falcon.
In 1951 he returned to Germany to direct and star in Der Verlorene (The Lost One), shown yesterday evening at the National Film Theatre. It was his only film as a director, and a fascinating if flawed one. He plays a doctor, Rothe, in a displaced persons' camp just after the war, working with inadequate facilities and resorting to drink. A former Nazi agent now on the run, Hoesch (Karl John), appears and triggers memories of their wartime past, played out in flashbacks. At that time a respected research scientist, he is warned by Hoesch that his fiancée is a spy - and promiscuous: the news unbalances him and he murders the girl. Because of Roche's usefulness to the state, Hoesch's superior covers up the murder: but Roche's guilt and madness leads him to desire to murder again: after almost getting to the point of murdering a prostitute he murders a woman he has got into a conversation with on a train. The plot becomes rather jumbled as it turns out that Hoesch's superior is involved in an unspecified conspiracy: when Roche is thought to have been killed in the bombing of his home he disappears and assumes the new identity he is now using in the camp. Going over their past together, Hoesch becomes drunk: Roche kills him and commits suicide.
The film is atmospherically photographed and directed, particularly in the gloomy area around the camp: and Lorre makes good use of his haunted and expressive face as the kindly doctor who carries the guilt of his murderous obsessions. Though the pace is deliberate the film works well apart from the confusion in the final section of the flashback, covering the conspirator and his flight from Hoesch.
However it was too downbeat for audiences at the time and was not a success: Lorre returned to Hollywood and never directed another film. It's a pity, because though his usual performances were always good (and he was a notorious screen-stealer) Der Verlorene shows the subtlety and depth of performance of which he was capable.
Posted: Sun - March 23, 2008 at 08:45 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM