Mask of Dimitrios, The (1944)

“Ingenuity is never a substitute for intelligence.”

Synopsis:
A Dutch mystery writer (Peter Lorre) travelling in Istanbul meets a local policeman (Kurt Hatch) who tells him the story of Dimitrios Makropolous (Zachary Scott), a now-deceased criminal who betrayed many. As Lorre travels across Europe to learn more about Dimitrios’ life (with the intent of crafting a new novel), he meets Dimitrios’s embittered ex-lover (Faye Emerson), a fleeced gambler (Steven Gergay), and a vengeance-seeking former accomplice (Sydney Greenstreet) willing to pay Lorre to help him out.

Genres:

Review:
Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet paired up in quite a few films during the 1940s, beginning with The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), then later teaming up in the Peary-listed Three Strangers (1946) (directed by Jean Negulescu) and The Verdict (1946) (directed by Don Siegel). This earlier outing by Negulescu — based on a novel by Eric Ambler — is another atmospheric, unusual flick, notable for allowing Lorre to play a non-creepy guy for once. The flashback-filled, cross-continental narrative weaves a complex tale of betrayal and vengeance, one which accurately portrays the wary mood of this war-time era; as DVD Savant writes in his review, “everybody looks potentially suspicious but nobody is immediately identifiable as a conspirator.” A major identity-based plot twist shifts everything into a different gear later on, and the ending is quite satisfying.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography



Must See?
Yes, once, as an unusual and atmospherically filmed outing.

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One Response to “Mask of Dimitrios, The (1944)”

  1. A no-brainer once-must at least, though revisits would be understandable and have value: as an all-around ‘good show’ – impressive and satisfying direction, performances, script, mood.

    This film belongs to that group of ‘the less you know in advance, the better’ films (I say that in spite of the fact that, below, I give out some of the plot… but not enough to spoil the complicated fun). I’ll just add: watching Lorre and Greenstreet together is alone worth the watch (as tends to be the case with them). And… I saw the film again last year. It had been a long time in-between viewings so I had actually forgotten some of the significant details – which made the rewatch more pleasurable.

    As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “We’ll probably never know who killed him – but whoever it was did us all a favor.”

    ‘The Mask of Dimitrios’ (1944): Jean Negulesco’s adaptation of an Eric Ambler thriller stars Zachary Scott as ne’er-do-well Dimitrios. Ok, he’s worse than that – he’s a bastard. And at the beginning of the film he shows up dead (Scott would go on to again show up dead at the beginning of ‘Mildred Pierce’). The death is seen as a triumph for a police colonel who had been hunting the criminal for 20 years. When the colonel happens to meet one of his favorite detective novelists (Peter Lorre) at a party, the writer begins to be fascinated by what could become (for him) a central figure in a novel. Lorre begins to hunt down background info on Dimitrios – running into the mysterious Sydney Greenstreet along the way. ~and then Lorre and Greenstreet end up having a whale of a time together on-screen. I think this film has been somewhat lost in the shuffle of Warners classics and that’s a shame; it deserves to be better-known. It’s a very talky film but the talk is top-notch and the various shady character studies within are a pip.

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