DVD: Verlorene, Der / The Lost One (1951)

May 4, 2020 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Arthaus (Germany)

Region: 2 (PAL)

Released: November 30, 2007

Genre:  Suspense / Drama

Synopsis: A former Nazi bio-chemist working under an alias in a postwar refugee camp revisits his past sins when a former colleague & confidant arrives.

Special Features: Disc 1 – 2 Stills Galleries (Set & Publicity) / 3 Text Biographies: Peter Lorre + Karl John + Gisela Trowe / 3 PDF Files: 1951 Production & 1988 research + Peter Lorre’s original 25 page manuscript + 3 period reviews . Disc 2 – 2 documentaries: “Das doppelte Gesicht: Peter Lorre / Peter Lorre: The Double Face” (1984) (58:47) + “Displaced Person: Peter Lorre und sein Film Der Verlorene (2007) (60:21)” / Arthaus Trailers. 24-page booklet with career overview by Felix Hofmann.

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After WWII, the German film industry enticed ex-pats in Hollywood to return and help rebuild the industry, and among the more obvious invitees were director Fritz Lang, who made the deliciously pulpy diptych Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, both remakes of a two-part silent he and Thea von Harbou authored in 1921.

Lang may not have been in his prime, but an interesting appendix to a related filmography is Peter Lorre, who returned to Germany to write and direct his only film. Lorre had risen to international stature with Lang’s brilliant tale of a child killer, M (1930), and perhaps drawing from his time under the baton of Lang, Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Secret Agent), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Beat the Devil), Jean Negulesco (The Mask of Dimitrios), and Irving Pichel (Quicksand), Lorre’s lone crack as auteur was a contemporary mystery-drama in which a stranger arriving at a refugee camp causes the local doctor (Lorre) to recall and relive his wartime crimes.

It’s not unusual for a post-WWII drama to feature stories in which characters are slowly corroding from within due to guilt, but Lorre’s very low-key drama reportedly didn’t click with audiences, and perhaps wanting the escapism and exotica of Lang’s Indian epics, Lorre’s poorly received & released film cut short his career as director – a shame, given the mood and focus on performance nuances make this uncompromising film quite solid.

A thinner Lorre is Dr. Karl Rothe, rechristened Dr. Neumeister, administering routine prescriptions and treatments to war refugees in a daily grind that’s neither pressing nor interesting, but seems to serve as a locked purgatory until some serendipitous final judgment is pronounced.

Rothe’s nemesis is Hosch, rechristened Nowak, who wanders into the camp and waits for a moment in which the two men can drop their tired, respectable veneers and talk of the old days when Rothe was supervising biomedical work for the Nazi regime, and Hosch was his protégé.

As he recalls in a series of increasingly extended flashbacks, Rothe was perfectly content with his life: straight interesting work, good colleagues, respect among his peers, and travelling about Hamburg’s environs when not at home with his fiancée Inge (Renate Mannhardt) and her fussy mother (Johanna Hofer).

His world comes to a crash when a Col. Winkler (Helmuth Rudolph) and Hosch offer proof that Inge has been fielding sensitive data to the allies through Swedish contacts, and Rothe is told to ‘dump the bitch’ to safeguard state secrets.

The betrayal seethes for hours, preventing him from uttering barely a word to his fiancée or her mother, and when alone with Inge, his rage gets the better of him and he strangles her with forceful determination. The crime is quickly covered up by Winkler, and Hosch tries to keep Rothe on an even keel with ongoing research, but Rothe begins to feel he simply can’t hide his crime in spite of having fooled Inge’s mother and the new housemate, a pretty but bubbleheaded 22 year old Ursula Weber (Eva Ingeborg Scholz).

The question of whether Rothe will kill again isn’t in doubt – there’s simply too much pressure within, and his paranoia seems to cause strangers to feel deeply uncomfortable when in close proximity. A pub encounter with a barfly / hooker (Gisela Trowe) is especially chilling, and an air raid which leaves Rothe and a lonely mother (Lotte Rausch) alone in a train pushes him over the edge.

Through each of these episodes, Lorre bleeds in some present day commentary, and intercuts intriguing chiding between an increasingly drunk Hosch and Lorre, the latter constantly smiling, smoking, glowering, and handling a revolver once owned by Hosch like a banal memento.

Lorre’s performance is neat, refined, and measured, with nuances carefully layered into the gradual arc that follows Rothe’s eventual mental snap; besides those massive eyes, Lorre, himself a notorious chain-smoker, handles a smoldering cigarette with a specific intensity, spinning the lighted stick between his fingers like a fidget toy, and the only overt source that something is very wrong with his psyche.

The revolver is treated somewhat like a Hitchcockian would-be murder weapon, constantly changing hands not through theft or with intent, but from accidental ownership and unintended usage, passing between the two men who covered Rothe’s crime and having the ability to unmask.

The finale isn’t a surprise, but the way it unfolds within the stages of wartime Germany – restricted housing, limited goods, air raids, sweeping arrests, a bombing raid, and the ennui and emotional numbness within the refugee camp – give the drama a unique context. That overall dour tone may have been what doomed the film’s chances at being embraced by war ravaged audiences, boosting the film industry’s output and acting as a sampler of its rebirth to international markets.

Not unlike Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter (1955), Lorre’s directorial debut was a one-timer, as was his script, reportedly based on his novel, and adapted with Axed Eggebrecht and Helmut Kaunter, the latter a veteran director (Der Hauptmann von Köpenick, The Last Bridge), but Der Verlorene is a sampling of what could’ve been, had Lorre been able to tackle other dramas with contemporary themes and tensions rippling beneath characters in a state of duress.

Willy Schmidt-Gentner’s score is a little overbearing, but its intense peaks may have been an attempt to add momentum to the film’s measured scenes and unsubtle horror to the emerging conflicts. Vaclav Vich’s cinematography has a certain noir quality, but perhaps because of the performance and natural dialogue, Der Verlorene still feels like a social drama, especially since Lorre wasn’t interested in showing Rothe’s crimes – the events are largely blacked out, and it’s the lead-up and extended emotional states that were of interest.

Much of the dialogue is fast-paced, making the film a little hard to follow, even with German descriptive subtitles that flitter across the screen. Rothe and Hosche engage is fast banter, and Winkler is elliptical in the manner he presents, argues, and re-argues points (not to mention insults after Rothe has left the trio).

Arthaus’ Region 2 DVD uses a decent print with fairly clean audio, and includes several notable extras which contextualize this very unique and rarely seen film within North America.

The extras are pretty substantive, starting with a 24-page booklet in which Felix Hofmann traces Peter Lorre’s career from stage to big screen. Text bios and surviving production stills are grouped in separate galleries on Disc 1, plus three unique PDF files: the first offers some 1951 production documents plus a 1988 request by The Films of Peter Lorre pictorial biographer Stephen D. Youngkin to gain further info on both the film and its navigation through the German film certification board; the second features 25 scanned pages from Lorre’s original manuscript; and the third a trio of period reviews, including an English review filed by Variety’s Paris correspondent.

Disc 2 offers a batch of trailers from other Arthaus releases, but the main draw are two very detailed & candid bio featurettes.

The first. Das doppelte Gesicht: Peter Lorre / Peter Lorre: The Double Face (1984), has directors Harun Farocki, Christian Petzold’s frequent screenwriting collaborator, and Felix Hoffmann tracing pivotal events in his life to his sudden death at 59 in 1964.Rather than relying on film clips, the filmmakers’ approach is more lo-fi and experimental, filming stills, frame grabs, and ratcheting brief film clips to prolonged strobes.

Lorre was a man of many faces. Born László Lowenstein, the name change perhaps augmented his profile as an up and coming actor on the stage, breezing through classical and experimental works, including plays written by Bertolt Brecht, with whom he’d maintain a lengthy friendship through Berlin’s heady 1920s, their flight from Nazi Germany to Hollywood, and their separate returns to postwar Germany.

His huge expressive eyes and command of physical ticks and quirks made him a natural for character roles, even though he could carry a film as the lead. Fritz Lang’s M (1930) made him a star as a child killer, and recognizing the danger of typecasting, Lorre soon sought out less grim roles to show his less intense gravitas, and knack for comedy.

After emigrating to Hollywood with then wife Celia Lovsky, Lorre gained fame as the eponymous Mr. Moto at Fox, and had roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Secret Agent (1936), and although just supporting character roles inthe latter, he was nonetheless a Hollywood star with international recognition – a quality that the rubbled film industry could exploit in their efforts to rebuild in postwar Germany.

Whereas Farocki and Hoffmann’s doc fixates on the many visages and persona of Lorre on film, Robert Fischer’s Displaced Person: Peter Lorre und sein Film Der Verlorene (2007) chronicles in deep detail Lorre’s dream to become a director, and the bumpy, disheartening journey he took to make his only film as writer, director, and star.

The first effort fell through when a supposedly viable producer vanished with the funds, but a stay at a German sanitarium to control his drinking and morphine addiction also benefited from visits and reassurances by Brecht. Fellow German exile Arnold Pressburger entreated him to make his debut in Hamburg, which had become the new filmmaking centre.

Pressburger had enjoyed creative and critical success with several independent productions, and their collaboration seemed to click until Pressburger died mid-production. His son took over and saw the film’s completion, and in spite of relatively favourable reviews by local critics, the dour subject matter and finale weren’t the escapism demanded by audiences. As one of Lorre’s colleagues opines, they’d go to cinemas in support of Lorre, but the tale of a former Nazi biologist killing his fiancée and wrestling with seething guilt wasn’t right for the time – a sad circumstance, as East Germany’s first postwar film was the frank drama The Murderers Are Among Us / Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946), a frank drama about postwar guild and consequences, told without dollops of espionage and a murder reminiscent of a grim noir.

Both documentaries concur that Lorre’s career wasn’t the same when he left Germany for the last time. With his dream project barely released and appreciated, he took on lesser parts, playing comedic oddballs which some colleagues found painful to watch, especially given the freedom and support he gave his cast in Verlorene. The thin, slightly gaunt figure morphed into a heavier figure which some dismissed as a caricature of himself, and his final roles, while beloved as comedy horror classics (Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors), were far removed from his meatier parts.

Fischer’s doc is exhaustive and benefits from interviews with surviving cast (Gisela Trowe) and colleagues, and rare clips and stills, whereas Farocki and Hoffmann attempt to wrestle with Lorre’s enigma and the masks which they argue enabled him to remain deeply private yet bring life to various characters. Their conclusions share bittersweetness for a talent that made its mark in popular entertainment, yet should’ve been able to grow into an auteur of socially provocative dramas, neatly shielded in popular generic containers.

Der Verlorene has yet to make its formal debut to English audiences, and it’s a title that deserves a North American Blu-ray presentation (the 2019 German Blu from Alive ports over the Arthaus docs but is Region B), perhaps through Criterion, Kino Lorber, Cohen Media or Flicker Alley. Whereas Murderers Are Among Us (released on DVD by First Run Features) is part time capsule and artifact of postwar Germany, Lorre’s drama is just as intense because of the nuances he invested in his performance, and those of his fellow actors.

Perhaps the most fitting homage comes from director Romuald Karmakar, an experimental filmmaker whose chilling film Der Totmacher / The Deathmaker (1995), takes its title from a pivotal scene in Verlorene when Rothe is unmasked as ‘a deathmaker’ by a shrill-voiced prostitute. There are noted elements in Lorre’s film which recall M, but his taut drama adapts them well to suit a character who not unlike M’s monster, is compelled to commit evil, but Rothe – its pronunciation is identical to rot or red in German – has just tasted murder, and has his boots on the first step in becoming a serial killer.

Karmarkar’s film is a more direct, face-to-face examination of evil – the entire drama is derived from an actual transcript between a brutal serial killer and an investigating psychiatrist – but as actress Trowe recalls, her shrill barking of “totmacher” was improvised, and although a nonsensical term in German, it’s nevertheless a succinct summation of a monster with a plan, an intention to follow through, and a hunger to re-commit – aspects the hooker immediately senses when she sees Rothe’s face by her illuminated front door.

The potency of Lorre’s writing, direction, and performance within Der Verlorene provide a hint of a natural career step which, due to a complicated series of events, circumstances, and timing, was cut short. His final film role was in Jerry Lewis’ The Patsy (1964), his second for the actor-director, after The Sad Sack (1957).



© 2020 Mark R. Hasan





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