Tuesday Editor’s Pick: The Lost One (1951)

by on August 16, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Tue Aug 23 at 7:00 at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]


Film critics Nick Pinkerton and Nic Rapold continue to program some real curios and must-sees in their “Overdue” series at 92Y Tribeca. This one, Peter Lorre’s long lost directorial effort, is also known by its German title Die Verlorene.


Robert Keser for Senses of Cinema:

More than half a century seems time enough to be able to look in history’s rear-view mirror back to traumatised postwar Germany and Peter Lorre’s sole writing and directing credit. Lorre’s Der Verlorene is a brooding and fearless but little seen attempt to reconnect to his native soil (after his 18-year exile in Paris, London and Hollywood), but equally designed to jolt his homeland into an appreciation of the psychological brutalisation that had made the war possible. At the same time, Lorre sought to stimulate a depressed film industry still struggling to rise from the ashes of Nazi control, and which had wrecked it with madly overreaching propaganda spectacles.


Never self-important and hardly wasting a shot, the film seems filtered through an actor’s sensibility, focusing on individual scenes and moments rather than an overall shape. This is partly a result of Lorre’s experimental approach that encouraged the actors to improvise dialogue at the expense of the shooting script. Again and again, Lorre gives preference to individual line readings and on-set improvisations rather than a consistent tone or clear narrative contours, yet the film gathers power as it moves to a devastating climax that strikes deep and bold.



Phil Hall for Film Threat:

The English title to the 1951 German noir drama “Der Verlorene” is “The Lost One,” which is a suitable irony since the film is one of the lost classics to American moviegoers. Barely seen in the U.S., the film is a missing puzzle piece in the career of Peter Lorre, the celebrated character actor best known for his villainous performances in classic films including “M,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca.” Having worked with many of the finest directors (including Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Frank Capra), Lorre brought an intimate knowledge of high-quality cinema to his directing debut.


“Der Verlorene” offers a wonderfully uncomfortable dissection of a criminal whose isolated acts of murder take place nearly unnoticed within a country that was in the midst of the widest and most gruesome slaughter in the history of civilization. In presenting his medical murderer, Lorre wisely did not go for melodrama and avoided the temptation of overplaying his hand with rolling eyes and cackling grimaces. Instead, his character keeps an eerie and nearly-impossible air of calm and control, offering charming insouciance when his crimes are realized by almost-victims who barely escape him. In the film’s shocking denouement (which will not be revealed here), he provides an amazing air of joy and rue in awaiting the action which will end his horrendous double life. The small, slight gesture he enacts and the expression he provides are so subtle and powerful that few actors could dream of replicating. This film was Lorre’s triumph as an actor. Lorre would never direct another film and he later returned to the silly supporting roles he was trying to escape, ending his career in stoogery opposite Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s campy Poe-flavored chillers. Time has been the ally of “Der Verlorene” in Europe, where it has since been hailed as a classic. Yet outside of a bare handful of brief engagements in the early 1980s, American audiences only know of “Der Verlorene” from reputation. As the film travels its half-century anniversary lap around European cinemas, one can only hope that “Der Verlorene” can finally cross the Atlantic and take root permanently. It is a great work of art whose absence from America is not short of criminal


Time Out (London):

Der Verlorene would have been remarkable in virtually any context; as a product of the depressed German film industry of the post-war years, it’s absolutely phenomenal. It was Lorre’s only film as writer/director, and it clearly represents a personal comment on the side of Germany that forced him into exile in 1933, just as his own performance in the lead is a rethinking of the psychopath roles that he played in M and many Hollywood movies. The plot, developed entirely in flashbacks, shows how research doctor Rothe (Lorre) is forced into political complicity with the Nazis by their shrewd, cold-blooded exploitation of his emotional and psychological weaknesses; everything about it (including the spasms of expressionism in the imagery) is haunted by a sense of the German past, until the powerhouse melodrama of the ending rockets the film into the even bleaker present.



Larry Kart for the Chicago Tribune:

“The Lost One” is both an excellent film and a superb vehicle for Lorre, who gives a performance of great power and depth that equals (and may well surpass) anything else he did on the screen. Lorre was born to play this role, and his every gesture seems to speak.
His hands are engaged in a ceaseless dance of despair, and there are no words to describe the subtlety of the emotions that haunt his eyes and flow over his face. As for Lorre`s verbal gifts, even those who don`t understand German should be able to detect the infinitely-shaded range of ironic intonation that suffuses his speech.


But, then, the entire film glows with Lorre`s magic–recalling, in its mature cinematic grace, another one-shot film directed by a great actor, Charles Laughton`s “The Night of the Hunter.”


Lotte Eisner in The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema:

Unfortunately the Germans did not grasp the scope of one of their films whose quality recalls the best films from the period 1930-32. Der Verlorene bears no trace of the numerous recent attempts to turn the clock back to pre-Nazi days. Though he owes certain debts to M – the obsession with murder and the tragically tense atmosphere recall Lang’s old film – Lorre gives evidence of very personal inspiration. He has matured, his physique has improved with his art, he knows how to avoid false pathos and overemphasis, and how to give full weight to silences.


The scenario owes much to his subtlety: this film’s suggestive power is the fruit of devices which always have their origin in the situation. We have to read between the lines. The Nazi rout felt to be imminent everywhere from 1943 onwards is made vividly present by a few tiny incidents and a few phrases slipped on here and there. To portray the reign of the Third Reich, many lesser directors deem it necessary to present a profusion of resistance fighters, people declaiming ‘Heil Hitler’, and torture scenes. Here there is nothing of the kind: the Nazi who plays an important part throughout the film is completely defined by his manner, his laugh, and his language, and only once do we see him in the extreme situation of the killer. And that’s all. Nor is there any need to resort to the ruins of Hamburg to get a picturesque setting: on the one occasion that the camera comes to rest on a house in ruins, the shot is necessary and totally integrated into the action. This approach, and this tact, a quality which has been absent from German films for twenty years, are found constantly in the dialogue, the acting, and even the elocution. There is not a single slip, a single forced contrast, or a single false value. The editing also testifies to these rediscovered qualities: the flashbacks to 1943 are fitted into the action with perfect logic and great restraint.


Excerpts from a German documentary on Lorre:


J. Hoberman encapsulates things for the Voice:

The great character actor’s last vehicle and lone directorial effort might be called The Weird One.



Keser continues in his Senses of Cinema piece:

Strong and confident here, Lorre allows no hysterical outbursts or outsized acting effects here to pull our attention away from the character to the actor, employing none of the grotesqueries found in later performances like his wizened buffoon in Silk Stockings (Rouben Mamoulian, 1957) or The Big Circus (Joseph M. Newman, 1959) in which he played an actual clown. It’s a rare set-up in Der Verlorene that doesn’t include Lorre drinking and smoking incessantly (his bondage to nicotine betokens Rothe’s helplessness before the forces ready to exploit his weaknesses), so a very late landscape shot carries a momentary shock when his character walks right out of the frame, leaving us to look at the emptiness.


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