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


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.


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.



Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. 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. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.