Peter Lorre, from antihero… to cartoon character!

The monster of Dusseldorf for Fritz Lang, the man who knew too much for Hitchcock, and Raskolnikov for Josef von Sternberg. This year Il Cinema Ritrovato has decided to dedicate a section to the talent of Peter Lorre: Peter Lorre, a foreigner in a foreign land. As a means of celebrating this magnificent actor, whilst waiting to see him on the big screens of the festival, let’s explore the lesser known side of him … the cartoons!

Lorre’s face and voice were too characteristic not to be a source of inspiration for the animation industry, which did not fail to pay homage to him on several occasions, encouraging him to interpret different roles, usually as a villain or a mad scientist. As was the case with Warner Bros. which used his features for the character of Dr. Lorre, who appeared in several short-films in the Looney Tunes series (Bug Bunny and the gang, so to speak). His first appearance dates back to 1946, in the short film Hair-Raising Hare, and was repeated the following year in Birth of a Notion. The character reappeared more recently in the 2003 mixed-media film Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

It is not the only case in which Warner used Lorre’s face: also in 1946, his features were used to interpret the gangster Hugo in the short film Racketeer Rabbit, where he was joined by a colleague inspired by another actor of the time, Edward G. Robinson. In an episode of the Tiny Toons Adventures series (starring the younger relatives of the main animated WB characters), another character visually identical to Lorre appears, a shady figure dressed as a train driver (!) who answers to the name of Boxcars.

Flash forward to 2005, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is released. It is impossible not to recognise in the eyes and voice of Maggot, the faithful friend of the bride, an amused and affectionate parody of the Hungarian actor.More difficult (and doubtful) is the homage that would appear in Disney’s Aladdin: when the Genie, in listing the rules for using his services, temporarily transforms himself into a zombie, according to some, the original voice actor, the late Robin Williams, was imitating Lorre.

We close this list with another tribute yet this time vocal: Morocco Mole, the super-squirrel protagonist’s assistant in the animated series by Hannah-Barbera Secret Squirrel, visually there is no relation to Lorre, however the voice actor Paul Frees’ interpretation clearly imitates the cadence and accent of the Hungarian actor.