“The fact remains that six deaths by accident, out of any ten names, is too high of a proportion for chance.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Audiences at the time were invited to guess who was who, and were rewarded when each actor unmasked himself during the closing credits. To that end, Bud Westmore’s make-up is truly impressive: while we can tell that the characters played by each of these actors are clearly in disguise, it’s remarkably difficult to discern their real faces underneath. Kirk Douglas — acknowledged almost immediately as the film’s psychopathic villain — plays the largest camouflaged role, hiding behind various effective personae as he commits a series of cold-blooded murders.
The fact that we know the killer’s identity from the beginning means that the story really belongs to George C. Scott:
playing a retired British intelligence officer determined to follow through on the suspicions raised by his recently deceased friend, the oddly named Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) — who does indeed attempt to leave a final message for the man by his side (Jacques Roux) as he’s dying. As fate would have it, Scott knows Roux, and the two collaborate together on the mystery. Meanwhile, in the weakest element of the plot, Roux falls for and romances Messenger’s widowed cousin, Dana Wynter (beautiful but poorly used here).
Huston’s firm directorial hand is evident throughout; unfortunately, however, the story he’s working with is merely serviceable entertainment — worthy viewing once, but not must-see for all film fanatics.
Note: Interestingly enough, character actor Jan Merlin was actually the man behind the make-up during several of the presumed “cameo” roles by the famous actors; apparently only Douglas and Mitchum actually did any real acting in disguise, while the others merely showed up for their “unmasking” scene at $75,000 each.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: