Peter Lorre
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Movies

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From Abbott, the courtly assassin in Hitchock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, to the un-manly yet indefatigable Joel Cairo, in The Maltese Falcon, PETER LORRE (1904-64) mocked or otherwise subverted the very concept of “villain” with an ironic self-awareness unavailable to earlier horror actors like Lugosi and Karloff. His characters’ priorities disturb and thrill those moviegoers who’ve been conditioned to assume that villains only desire money and power, sex and violence. Instead, Lorre’s uncanny bad-guys long to collaborate with their intellectual equals; the furious Weltschmerz with which he infuses the word “idiot” has been echoed gleefully by Lorre-esque cartoon characters, from Mel Blanc’s mad scientists to Jon Kricfalusi’s mad chihuahua, for over half a century. Ever get the feeling that civilization is being overrun by testosterone-addled jackasses? Me, too. You don’t have to be a Hungarian-German Jewish refugee, like Lorre was, to sympathize with what we must recognize as his characters’ (perverted, to be sure) idealism.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Richard Garfield | Petrus Borel |

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-13) Generations.

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Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based semiotic culture and brand analyst. He is editor/publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age science fiction imprint HILOBOOKS. In addition, Josh is co-author of several books, including (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) the family activities guides UNBORED, UNBORED GAMES, and the forthcoming UNBORED ADVENTURE. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT.