Peter Lorre’s massive influence on iconic Robin Williams creation laid bare | Films | Entertainment

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Tonight, Peter Lorre stars in the 1941 horror flick The Face Behind the Mask, which airs on Talking Pictures TV from 10.55pm. The film follows a twisted immigrant watchmaker who has been unable to find work as a result of facial injuries he sustained in a fire, and how he uses his unique skills for criminal purposes. Initially, the horror was poorly received by critics, with The New York Times noting it “may safely be set down as just another bald melodramatic exercise in which the talents of Lorre again are stymied by hackneyed dialogue and conventional plot manipulations”.

Contemporary reviews, however, demonstrate the film’s impact, including Lorre’s acting credentials, with critic Leonard Maltin praising it as an “extremely well done” film “on a slim budget”.

Hungarian-born Lorre’s tale is one of blockbuster status, as, being of Jewish descent, he and his family were forced to leave Germany as Nazi leader Adolf Hitler rose to power.

He was often hailed for his ability to play villains, including when he was the first actor to portray a James Bond villain in the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale.

But what is often not known about Lorre is his appearance in the Nineties Disney film Aladdin, as one of the impersonations the Genie makes during a hilarious first meeting between the two characters.

The Genie, portrayed by the late Robin Williams, is often considered one of the greatest characters to grace the screens in a Disney film.

In Aladdin, which was released in 1992 and was the 31st film to be released by the Disney studio, a passage shows the Genie performing a series of hilarious impressions as he tries to warm to the street kid.

Among them are Arnold Schwarzenegger, William F. Buckley, Jr, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson.

But it’s often forgotten that Lorre appears as a green creepy monster in one impression, in a nod to Williams’ love of his characters.

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Dave Itzkoff, who wrote the 2018 biography of Williams, titled Robin, noted how the creative process of finding characters such as Lorre for the iconic scene helped shape the overall character of the Genie.

Originally, Aladdin was set to be a “swashbuckling historical fantasy”, Slash Magazine reported this year, but co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, as well as composer Alan Menken, convinced the executives for it to be a “cosier retelling of the Arabic folktale”.

This helped shape the Genie’s character, which had the original plot been developed, would have seen him be a “hipster, à la Fats Waller and Cab Calloway” and inspired by jazz-age entertainers, it was claimed.

While Williams was earmarked for the role thanks to appearances in films such as Good Morning, Vietnam, and Hook, it was unclear whether the star, who demanded millions in fees, would be up for a role in a Disney film.

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Animator Eric Goldberg was tasked with creating test footage for Williams to audition against, and created a storyboard for the Genie’s song Friend Like Me.

Goldberg recalled how the test footage included lines from Williams’ stand-up comedy albums, which added to the Genie’s animation made for brilliant viewing.

He said: “I think what probably sold him was the one where he says, ‘Tonight, let’s talk about the serious subject of schizophrenia—No, it doesn’t!—Shut up, let him talk!’

“What I did is animate the Genie growing another head to argue with himself, and Robin just laughed.

“He could see the potential of what the character could be. I’m sure it wasn’t the only factor, but then he signed the dotted line.”

Williams died after he killed himself at his home in Paradise Cay, California in 2014. He was aged 63.

His autopsy revealed undiagnosed Lewy body disease.

Among the many emotional tributes was then-US President Barack Obama, who said: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between.

“He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.

“He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalised on our own streets.”

The Face Behind the Mask airs on Talking Pictures TV from 10.55pm tonight.

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