Sunday, 12 April 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1941: Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon

Peter Lorre did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon.

The character of Joel Cairo could be seen as unnecessary to the story merely since there is already technically the main villain in the form of Kaspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) who already has a henchmen in the form of Wilmer (Elisha J. Cook Jr.). Cairo is simply another man in search of the elusive title figure there really for an added bit of character, but with a bland actor he could have seemed truly superfluous. Well Peter Lorre is about as the opposite of bland as an actor can be. Really I think Lorre might have been the only actor from the period to fully earn Humphrey Bogart's reaction as Sam Spade to the appearance of Joel Cairo in his office. Bogart face is almost as if a naked man walked through the door, while Cairo earns such a surprise. Lorre is downright brilliant in the whole manner he carries himself as Cairo with his most peculiar mannerisms which Lorre wears with such a natural ease it's something to watch. Everything that Lorre does in his scenes, every facial movements, the way he fondles then almost seems to want to deep throat his can, creates Joel Cairo as quite the specimen who Lorre makes rather unforgettable just from his first scene.

Lorre is an interesting case here in that he's not exactly menacing, which I doubt was the point since Spade disarms and knocks out Joel Cairo in his very first appearance. What Lorre does so well is personify the lurid world around the search for the Maltese Falcon. Lorre creates such a innately sinister sense in Cairo just as he propositions Spade for a job, before he has even shown any technical evil side on his part. All Cairo is technically saying at first is that he wants Spade to find the object for him, offering him money, not expecting him to break the law, and he even offers Spade some condolences for his dead partner. Of course everything along with that particularly that smile of his that seems to have such pure malevolence within it. There is such a deviousness  in every word that he speaks even the condolence seems two sided in some way. Lorre makes it as though everything about Cairo seems as though he's crawled out a particularly dark place just before he came to enter Spade's office. When he suddenly draws his gun on Spade it would have been far more surprising if he left the office without threatening Spade with death.

Lorre is also just very funny in the part although never does he have a set of punchlines to say. I particularly love after Spade has knocked him out and searched him. Lorre is such a great weasel as he acts though he is apologizing for the whole affair in such a sweet fashion as though everything they had was just a misunderstanding. He even asks for the gun back in such a calm unassuming way with those big eyes of his bringing such a surface earnestness to it he makes you believe that Spade would give him a gun back. This make it all the more hilarious when Lorre switches back to wholly sinister presence as he wants again draws the gun on Spade insisting that he look through his office. Lorre really is a villainous delight any time in which he appears and it is wonderful the dynamic Lorre is able to achieve in the part. He makes Cairo an absolute fiend to be sure, but such an enjoyable fiend to watch. There is another splendid moment where he has a discussion with Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor). He begins so professionally as he inquires about Brigid's knowledge then he delightfully falls about apart into a mess as gets into a fight with her when Spade leaves for a few seconds.

Of course just about the best of everything comes in the final sequence of the film as all the players get into a single room to receive the Falcon. This final scene is perhaps the best example of what makes Lorre's performance so good here. Technically speaking Joel does not have too much to say in this last scene as most the dialogue is given between Greenstreet's Gutman and Bogart's Spade. Lorre though would never let himself be forgotten in the midst of all that. Every little gesture of his adds at least a little something to the scene. Lorre frankly is not okay with just standing in the back as he just adds just the right bit of extra color to the scene. Lorre's knows exactly how far to go as he keep Cairo a considerable presence within the scene while not going so far as to be a distraction either. Again he makes Cairo such a terrific weasel within the frame just the way he whispers into ear has something so eloquently devious about it. I especially like though is how he gives the sold out Wilmer such a cold stare, after Wilmer realizes his position, but then proceeds to give him a warm pat on his back like he's saying "ah don't feel too bad". When Lorre does get his little moment though it's all the better. His reaction to finding the real nature of the Falcon is marvelous as breaks down to almost a crying baby over not getting the treasure, while blaming Gutman. I'd say he only tops this with his next reaction of true inspired happiness as Gutman asks him to come along to keep searching for it. This is outstanding work from Lorre as he makes Joel Cairo such memorable part of the story, and shows exactly how to give a flamboyant performance which only adds to the strength of his film.


luke higham said...

We Have A Winner.

luke higham said...

Louis: If someone else asks, can you save your thoughts on the Game Of Thrones Season Premiere until tomorrow night, considering the fact, that UK Viewers have to wait a day late.

Louis Morgan said...

Sure no problem.

luke higham said...

Louis: Thanks.

Michael McCarthy said...

I still have a lot of faith in Arnold, but considering my luck with predictions as of late I think I'll get on the bandwagon.

1. Peter Lorre
2. Edward Arnold
3. Laird Cregar
4. Herbert Marshall
5. Joseph Cotten

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Fuck it.

1. Lorre
2. Arnold
3. Cotten
4. Cregar
5. Marshall

Michael Patison said...

I know you asked for Louis to keep his thoughts to himself on the GoT premiere, so I'll just say that I found it to be everything we have come to expect from the terrific series. It's sweeping, gorgeous, and unusually thoughtful. The episode is nothing earth-shattering, but it's an incredibly promising start to the season.

mcofra7 said...

Request change: Downey Jr. in Zodiac to John Carroll Lynch in the same film. As good as Downey was, Lynch was fantastic in his one scene and only improved on re watch.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

2010s The Maltese Falcon
Tom Hardy as Sam Spade
Jessica Chastain as Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Daniel Bruhl as Joel Cairo
Brendan Gleason as Gutman
Burn Gorman as Wilmer

1960s Maltese Falcon
Paul Newman as Sam Spade
Janet Leigh as Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Oskar Werner as Joel Cairo
Jackie Gleason as Gutman
Peter Falk as Wilmer

1970s Maltese Falcon
James Caan as Sam Spade
Jane Fonda as Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Maxmillian Schell as Joel Cairo
Peter Ustinov as Gutman
John Cazale as Wilmer

1980s Maltese Falcon
Jeff Daniels as Sam Spade
Leslie Ann Warren as Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Tim Curry as Joel Cairo (does anyone else note the eery similarity between Lorre and Curry or is it just me)
Charles Durning as Gutman
Alan Ruck as Wilmer

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Game Of Thrones Season Premiere.

Louis Morgan said...


I liked the episode well enough still, but I did feel it was a bit overstuffed. It felt like few of the characters really had time to breath, which I never thought was a problem with the show despite all its story lines. I This may have merely been getting the setups out of the way though, although even with all the quick cutting we did not get to Arya or the Boltons. I'm still quite hopeful for the season since the one element of the episode I felt that got the time it needed, Mance Rayder, was terrific with Ciaran Hinds easily giving the best performance of the episode.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

As a cursory viewer of GOT, I hope Natalie Dormer, Conleth Hill, Dinklage, Gwendoline Christie, Carice Van Houten and Alfie Allen get their fair share of screentime this season as they're easily the best actors on the show I find.

Though I think the younglings Sophie Turner, Kit Harrington and Maisie Williams have improved tremendously from the first season.

luke higham said...

Louis: I thought Hinds was fantastic and the first episode was good overall, although I think its the weakest of all the season openers so far.

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your ratings and thoughts on Anne Revere in A Place in the Sun (since you thought that she worked well in it, personally I thought she was bland as usual), Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest and Goodbye Mr. Chips! and Katharine Hepburn and Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story?

Louis Morgan said...


I think in retrospect the episode will probably work well in terms of the whole season.


Revere - 2.5(Well you misinterpreted slightly. I said worked not for quite the reason you might think. She's still bland, and I doubt it was her intention considering it's still the same performance. I thought her blandness though in this case created her character into a cold morality as the mother was distant and harsh in showing that her son was wrong. Now again I doubt she intended this, but in this case her blandness had at least did work something)

Garson -

Miniver - 3(I never got much out of her performance here. She brought a strong enough presence, but like Pidgeon in the same film I thought they were proper to the point of being a bit boring)

Harvest - 3(I find her quite charming, if a bit overshadowed by Colman's haunting performance in the first half. Like everyone else in the second half of the film I found she just seemed like she had no idea where to go with her performance as she and the film just seem to wait for the remembrance scene)

Chips - 3(Charming enough in her few minutes although again I did not find her to do anything too special in her short amount of time)

Hepburn - 3.5(I have to admit to just not really liking the film much. Hepburn certainly brings the energy into her performance, and not in a bad way by any means. She's good although I find it difficult to love anything in that film)

Hussey - 3(I actually thought she did the angry to be there thing than I thought Stewart did. Still she did not leave too much of an impression I felt)