RSS Review of Stephen Youngking's bio of Peter Lorre, The Lost One…

07 Oct… Review 

He Beat the Devil, October 5, 2008
By Kevin Killian (San Francisco, CA United States) 
The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre        

Like all the other reviewers I'm staggered by Youngkin's accomplishment, which seems to me–perhaps profanely–even more impressive than Lorre's own. In a way, Lorre has found a biographer supreme, one beautifully blessed by all the gifts of sympathy and knowledge needed to translate an artist's work into contemporary times. How many of Lorre's peers have been given such a chance to live again? It's really shocking how few good biographies there have been of Hollywood stars, and even some of the most acclaimed (think of Gavin Lambert's Norma Shearer) have actually been among the most banal and simplistic.

Of course Lorre gave Youngkin a life really worth chronicling. If it wasn't the drug addiction, it was the dramatic life in Germamny observing and protesting the rise of Hitler, till he and Celia Lovsky found their way out in a sequence right out of Shearer's ESCAPE! The work with Fritz Lang, with Brecht, with Hitchcock, with Bogart, with Irwin Allen, with Roger Corman, each one of these phases could have made an interesting book, and Youngkin knows how to spread them out so that every angle is covered and yet our curiosity remains high. And the research and the interviewing is by itself amazing. Every time you turn around, Youngkin is eliciting revealing and wry comments from exactly the people you hope would comment on the particular situation he is writing about. Because the book has apparently been in motion for something like 30 years, his reach goes way back–he spoke with Frank Capra, with Hitchcock and Huston, with Broderick Crawford and Corinne Calvet–hundreds of actors, writers, directors and behind the scenes personnel. This research gives the book a depth and richness of point of view that elevates it to the Mount Rushmore of biography.

I wasn't always persuaded by Youngkin's critical judgments, and would rather put a staple gun to my face than have to watch SILK STOCKINGS again, for example–but now he's got me re-thinking, “Maybe it is a great performance stuck within a lousy film.” Youngkin pulls the camera way back and takes us through Rouben Mamoulian's whole career, his way of astonishing audiences by revealing unexpected sides to their favorite stars. I didn't actually need all of that to get the point, but I hope he gets to do the DVD commentary for SILK STOCKINGS, for we need more enthusiasts and fewer haters. Why write a book about a man, even a drug-addled and morose one, unless you love him?

— David DeWitt


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