Cairo’s homosexuality posed one of the biggest obstacles to securing overall approval of the picture. Hammett didn’t mince words in the novel. “This guy is queer,” says Sam Spade’s secretary as she hands him an engraved card bearing his name - Mr Joel Cairo. He speaks in a “high-pitched thin voice,” carries “gaily colored silk handkerchiefs fragrant of chypre,” and walks in “mincing, bobbing steps.” … Hal Wallis realised that American audiences - not to mention the Hays Office - were not ready for a candid look at homosexuality, which traditionally drew laughs and jeers out front.
After seeing Lorre’s first day’s work, Wallis dashed off a memo to Huston: “Don’t try and get a nancy quality into him, because if you do we will have trouble with the picture.” Huston bent to Breen’s will. In the scene, Effie presents Cairo’s calling card to a bemused Spade, who holds it to his nose.
"Gardenia," says Effie.
"Quick, darling, in with him," replies Spade.
The rest Huston left to Lorre’s subtlety and the viewer’s imagination.
The svelte 137-pound Lorre who stepped before the camera seemed younger, fitter, swifter. More was asked of him and he asked more of himself. The role was the best of its kind to come his way in years and Lorre knew it.
"I’d often shoot a scene with Peter and find it quite satisfactory, nothing more," recalled Huston -
But then I would see it on the screen in rushes and discover it to be far better than what I had perceived on the set. Some subtlety of expression was seen by the camera and recorded by the microphone that the naked eye and ear did not get. He’d be doing little things that the camera close on him would pick up that standing a few feet away you wouldn’t see. It was underplaying; it was a play that you would see if you were close to him, as a close-up, as a camera is close. Things would flicker there and burn up slightly, like a lamp, and then dim down, and come on again. You’re watching something as if it were in motion.
from The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre -Stephen D Youngkin
Peter Lorre in ink.
about me about everything
This comning month (June) will mark Peter’s 110th birthday, so I shall do my best to celebrate by posting at least one photo a day!
Alfred Hitchcock & Peter Lorre, 1936
On the set of Mad Love (1935)
Peter Lorre filmography