Thursday, 14 May 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1936: Peter Lorre in Secret Agent

Peter Lorre did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying General Pompellio Montezuma De La Vilia De Conde De La Rue in Secret Agent.

Secret Agent is considerable step below from some of Hitchcock's other work from the 30's such as the 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes, but it is a decent enough thriller about three British agents looking to assassinate a German spy.

Lorre plays one of the agents who calls himself  General Pompellio Montezuma De La Vilia De Conde De La Rue a ridiculously long name leaving him to be known mostly as the General but he's also known by the "Hairless Mexican". His lack of hair, and the fact that he does not seem to actually be a general, or probably even Mexican leaves the General as the most peculiar of characters in the film. Although if you want a character's eccentricity to stand out all the more I suppose one would cast Peter Lorre in the part, as he's certainly no stranger for that sort. Lorre might as well be the film as he's very much needed for the film to come to life as he plays the sidekick, of sorts, to John Gielgud's more straitlaced Captain Edgar Brodie. It is abundantly clear that this will be a particularly expressive performance by Lorre to say the least, which is all the better. His well rather assuming performance is rather necessary because one simply could not look like his character in this film, or behave like the character does without it seeming quite a bit off. Lorre embraces the idea with his work here and the film is all the better for it, since any scene with Lorre in it belongs to Lorre.

Lorre is terrific in playing into essentially an extravagance of the character as though the General is aware of his own absurdity and plays into to perhaps hide his actual intention. It does not make a great deal of sense for a spy to be so obvious yet Lorre gives sense to by making the General such a weird creature that perhaps he is a harmless one. Lorre does this well in that in interactions with most he brings this courteous quality as well as pride though as he announces his ridiculous name, which probably is not even real, to anyone he might meet. Lorre effectively builds a front of making the General this weird foreigner from wherever he might be from, but he's amusing in his own way so one would not need to suspect him of anything. Well other than attempting to be a devil with the ladies and again Lorre plays this up in an interesting fashion as though the General is perhaps fulfilling the role of the latin lover. Lorre is very entertaining as he shows the General strange way of trying to woo any pretty woman he might come in contact with. There seems to be an insanity to his enthusiasm, but it would appear as though it is all in good fun, or is it?

Well there are two members of the team with the leader of the group Edgar, Elsa (Madeleine Carroll) who's there to provide Edgar with a stronger cover by pretending to be his wife, but the General is there for one reason, which is killing the target as selected by Edgar. Lorre plays this side of the General equally well and is especially efficient in the way he reveals this to be behind the rest of his whole routine. Lorre's enjoyably grim though in the moments where he speaks about an eventual murder, often by indicating a throat slitting, or when he admires an assassination well done. Lorre is terrific in making the General so callous in the discussions involving death as though for him it is merely a profession and that a job well done should be recognized as such. Even when the General finds out that a man he killed was not the target, Lorre presents the reaction as a crazed laughter, as though it's merely one of those things that can happen on the job. Now when the General is actually killing though, Lorre brings the professional quality of the kill as most important, as in the moment he brings a particularly chilling determination, although not without perhaps a hint of joy as well. 

Lorre is easily the best part of this film, with Robert Young being the second best as another duplicitous individual, as the two of them are allowed to embrace the murky waters involved in the world of the film. This is actually a film where the leads get a bit too bogged down with being overly moral leaving them to unfortunately become somewhat boring characters. Where the fun is to be had is found in Lorre's depiction of the government endorsed murderer who has no qualms with his duties. Lorre even manages to give any sense to the ridiculous fate of his character. This is where the General decides to offer a drink to the dying German spy they were after, and Lorre actually makes some sense of this by stressing the General's professionalism and he's merely giving curtsey to another man in the same profession. It's still a bit much that the General would put his gun in reach of the man allowing the man to fatally shoot the General. Again Lorre does his absolute best to save the scene though as the General one last time announces his name, and Lorre is surprisingly moving as he seems to resign himself to his fate, finally dropping the facade as though there was no longer a point. Lorre does some very good work here that really manages to elevate the film which without him would be a bit forgettable.

10 comments:

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast?

luke higham said...

I'm giving my 2007 Lead Suggestions now, instead of tomorrow/saturday.
The requests
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before The Devil Knows Your Dead
and for the final slot, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Lust Caution, Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac, Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men, Ryan Gosling in Lars And The Real Girl, Karl Markovics in The Counterfeiters, Sam Riley in Control and Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.
Save the last three for the bonus rounds.

Louis Morgan said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

Gielgud - 3(Gielgud is stuck in an awkward situation really, since he clearly wants to try to give Brodie some complexity but the film doesn't want that. He tries to bring kinda the darkness of the spy with his portrayal of his character's moral dilemma, but the film undercuts him too often)

Carroll - 2.5(Her part is unfortunately repetitive, and bogs down the film. It's not Carroll fault though she has a little charm, but it's hard to not hate her character a little bit with that last scene on the train)

Young - 3.5(Young is well cast as he seems like who'd you expect to be the lead of the film with his outgoing and charming personality. The film probably would have benefited if it had played up the opposing natures of Edgar and Robert, but it doesn't really. Young though is quite effective in his duplicity, although I always felt he could brought a little more in the revelation scene)

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps? I thought she was great in that.

Anonymous said...

Ratings/thoughts on Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear and Juliette Lewis in The Doors?

RatedRStar said...

Luke: You reckon 2007 is next? there is probably no point suggesting anyone for the normal reviews since there is like 10 already.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, I meant Kathleen Quinlan in The Doors.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: I'm pretty confident that he's doing it next. There's 8 requests for '07 Lead and with my suggestions, I picked Hoffman for the ninth slot and for the final slot, I don't really give a shit, but gave Louis enough options to choose from for that slot, although I want him to save Riley, Markovics and Amalric for the bonus rounds.

If I had to choose someone for that final slot it probably, would be Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Lust Caution.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar changed his request for Mathieu Amalric to James Stewart in The Shop Around The Corner.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Carroll - 4(The difference in 39 Steps is she's actually allowed to be in on the fun. Her chemistry with Donat is particularly enjoyable and they are just very endearing together particularly when chained together. She's also rather effective in just gradually portraying the way her charter comes around to believing Donat's)

You can find my thoughts on Quinlan in Kilmer's review.

Lewis - 1.5(The best thing about that film are taken directly from the original such as the score and Robert Mitchum. Most of the performances otherwise are a bit overcooked Lewis included. It's one of those where playing it realistic yet having it being overtly trashy at the same time doesn't work, and her performance seems off)