The Human Swastika


Oh, Mr Batcheff, where do I begin?

Your chin is like an elbow and your elbow’s like a chin.

A tangle of angles, a double-breasted rune,

A swastika of bone beneath a severed, bloody moon.

Thanks to Mandy Lee for the swastika idea.

15 Responses to “The Human Swastika”

  1. I’s only half a swastika. And it’s not the right shape. The Nazi Swastika although the most popular version is actually a total deformation of the shape. A Swastika is actually rectangular in shape, not polygonal. Typic pretentious German attitude.

  2. It should not be forgotten that Pierre Batcheff was the male lead in Siren of the Tropics — a silent Josephine Baker vehicle on which Bunuel worked as a.d. In Un Chien Andalou Batcheff comes off as Pierre Clementi avant la lettre.

  3. Yes! They both have that expressionist shape. The little BFI book on L’Age D’Or is very good at tracing Bunuel’s connections in the French film industry, and fitting the films into that cultural scene.

    Horrors of Malformed Men features a gammadion symbol carved into a man’s heel as a plot device. The gammadion looks approximately like a swastika too (a bit more so than Batcheff — he’s a surrealist ‘stika).

  4. Sorry that this is off-topic, but you seem like just the man to ask, Mr Cairns: can you recommend a good biography of Peter Lorre? Your various anecdotes about his life scattered through these pages, and my own scattered viewing of his films, have me very keen to read his life.

  5. JRSM,
    David, hope you don’t mind my stepping in, but I own a copy of The Lost One, a Lorre biography that’s fairly recent. While I haven’t gotten around to reading most of it, what I have read tells me that it may well be the best that’s out there. Lorre’s special, a unique specimen of actor, I remember listening to Fresh Air, Teri Gross’s radio show on NPR, when she interviewed Steve Buscemi some years ago. She asked Buscemi if he liked Lorre. His answer: “I LOVE Peter Lorre.” To my knowledge there may be one other biography, not totally sure, but this would be the one to get, correct me if I’m mistaken Mr. Cairns.

  6. I think that’s the one, and I think someone plugged it here before.

    The Lost One, btw, is also the name of Lorre’s only film as director. And I would just like to say — BILL KROHN SAID HE WAS GOING TO SEND ME A COPY, AND HE NEVER DID!

    There, I’ve said it.

  7. Der Verlorene, on my must-see list. A couple sellers out there in internetland have it, one supposedly has an excellent print, the other has it on VHS. I’ll get around to it eventually. This one, like Laughton’s Night of the Hunter, is the only film Lorre directed.

  8. Just checked — it’s downloadable. But (a) it’s a massive file and (b) the subtitles are a separate file so I’d have to watch it on my computer, not ideal. So I’ll wait for a DVD copy.

    Asking Buscemi about Lorre seems kind of rude… I mean, no one asks George Clooney if he likes Peter Lorre. I bet he does. But asking that question is just a covert way of saying, “You’re creepy,” so they ask Buscemi and not Lorre.

    Brecht admired Lorre because he spoke German beautifully. Outside of M it’s hard to see anything where he speaks German at all, apart from that Mr Moto disguise.

    An actor of genius, and the genius was a sort of all-over thing, in his face and voice as much as in his mind. But just an amazing way with a line of dialogue, unlike anyone else who ever lived.

  9. Teri Gross is probably the best interviewer on the planet, bar none, it may seem rude in print, but she’s about as gracious and as considerate as they come. I think both Gross and Buscemi have a respect and appreciation for Lorre, and for Buscemi to be compared to Lorre was received as a high compliment from his end. What’s sad about Lorre is how no one over here in the States seemed to know quite what to do with his gifts, he was that unique, and the studios were that clueless. Just watched him a couple nights ago in The Mask of Dimitrios, a very good film, not a great one, and it would be totally forgettable were it not for Lorre’s involvement, although most all the principals involved were very good. Many years ago Teri Gross interviewed Gene Simmons from the band Kiss, and the exchange is legendary. Now I’ve never liked Simmons or his band, never, he’s no more than a hack opportunist, and he made a total flaming (no pun intended) ass of himself, no one’s ever come across as more obnoxious. Ms. Gross, on the other hand, was the very model of grace and intelligence. She interviewed Johnny Cash a few years before he died, and he was just as complimentary to her as she was to him. At the end of the interview she thanked Cash, and he thanked her as well, told her she was the best, and I dare say she is.

  10. Sweet!

    On the one hand, Lorre’s neglect as aserious actor is regrettable. On the other hand, how remarkable that an actor of his unique looks and style got to play leading men roles, villains, AND comedy, and stay busy over decades in a foreign country where you might expect his opportunities to be very limited. America the melting pot had more chances for an emigre actor in those days, I think.

  11. JRSM, I just want to say that I agree with Mr. Budziak on the Peter Lorre biograhy “The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre”. It’s the book to read if you want to know about Lorre’s life. The author, Stephen Youngkin, interviewed hundreds of people who knew and worked with Peter Lorre — friends, family members, directors, actors, behind-the-scenes crew. There are other books on Lorre, including “The Films of Peter Lorre” (also by Youngkin and his co-authors, Jim Bigwood and Ray Cabana), but “The Lost One” is considered a definitive work by many who have read it. you can find out more here, on the book’s official website — — as well as where to purchase the new DVD of “Der Verlorene”, currently for Region 2 only.

    Cheryl Morris

  12. Thanks for linking!

  13. Right! Thank you all! ‘The Lost One’ it is.

  14. You’re welcome! Always glad to help out my fellow Peter Lorre fans!

  15. […] Lee, inventor of the Human Swastika, chimed in with the following lament: “THE CRUCIBLE in a multiplex. About halfway through, […]

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