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A Dutch mystery writer tries to strip away THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS
Makropoulos to discover the truth about his wicked life.
From Warner Bros. and director Jean Negulesco comes this well-produced version of Eric Ambler's novel A Coffin For Dimitrios. Thickly plotted and jammed with intriguing characters, the film will amply reward the attentive viewer. Moving quickly across Europe (Istanbul, Athens, Sofia, Geneva, Belgrade & Paris) the plot never lags as it adds details to the plots & crimes of Dimitrios. The final culmination of his nefarious career is most justified and quite satisfying.
Diminutive Peter Lorre (undeserving of the pitiful 4th place billing he receives) brings his unique talents to the role of the Dutch author. Feisty and tenacious, he lets nothing get in his way as he ferrets out the details for which he's searching. Massive Sydney Greenstreet portrays the mysterious stout gentleman who arranges an alliance with Lorre to seek information about the violently deceased Dimitrios. Looking somewhat like a malevolently cheerful Buddha, Greenstreet literally dominates most of his scenes with his enormous talent, his great bulk and expressive eyes put to most effective dramatic use. Teamed with Lorre, the pair make a compelling duo--like a sinister Laurel & Hardy--and are most entertaining to watch. They would appear in nine films together; this was one of their best.
The movie's only real drawback is the complete absence of Greenstreet & Lorre during the lengthy flashback sequences. But this is but a minor quibble as the rest of the cast comport themselves quite well.
As the despicable Dimitrios, Zachary Scott manages to divest himself of any hint of the heroic, while retaining a certain dash and smarmy charm about his persona. Faye Emerson, the picture's leading lady, has actually a rather limited role, but she makes good use of her screen time as a Sofia nightclub owner with a sad story to tell Lorre.
The large supporting cast features a considerable number of European character actors. Especially noteworthy are Kurt Katch as a Turkish police detective; Eduardo Ciannelli as a helpful Bulgarian reporter; Victor Francen as a cat-loving spy master living in Switzerland; and Steven Geray as a most unfortunate Yugoslavian governmental clerk. Chatty Florence Bates livens up her one short scene as an American society hostess living in Istanbul.
Set in 1938, the film was produced during World War Two. It is a fine example of how movie magic and back lot technology could transport an audience to a temporarily inaccessible geographic location.
It's wartime and Warners is short of those hot, young leading men, so
they bring on one of the all-time great screen odd couples - Sydney and
Peter - to work their magic. And as always, they deliver, in "The Mask
of Dimitrios" starring Zachary Scott, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre,
and Faye Emerson. Though never leaving the back lot of Warners, the
film takes writer Cornelius Leyden (Lorre) through Istanbul, Athens,
Sofia, Geneva, Belgrade and Paris, following the life and career of an
intriguing figure - Dimitrios - whose dead body Leyden has just seen in
the morgue. The more he learns about this man, the more fascinated he
becomes, and he smells a great story. Dimitrios is a con man, a thief,
a blackmailer, and a spy for hire, and his victims tell their stories
in a series of flashbacks. One of these is a nightclub owner (Emerson),
who owns a nightclub in Sofia; another is a police detective; another a
spy. Finally, Cornelius meets Mr. Peters (Greenstreet) who has some
startling information...and a plan.
"The Mask of Dimitrios" captures a European flavor with its international cast and creative sets, and director Jean Negulesco keeps the action moving. In the title role, Zachary Scott is appropriately both attractive and slithery as a man constantly eluding those out to get him. Lorre is just great, becoming more and more worried and confused as he is drawn deeper into Dimitrios' adventures. Sydney Greenstreet gives a performance as big as he is as Mr. Peters - the scene where he passionately embraces French francs is one of his best ever! The last half hour or so belong to these two screen gems, Lorre and Greenstreet, and it's very exciting.
Two odd-sized, talented character men who helped keep Warner Brothers grinding out films during the war, Lorre and Greenstreet made ten films together. Unfortunately, we don't have anything like these two making movies today. Don't miss them in "The Mask of Dimitrios."
Eric Ambler was in a way the John Le Carré of his generation. A few of
his works were turned into fantastic films. The two best ones were
"Journey Into Fear" and "The Mask of Dimitrios." From the opening
sequence when a body is washed ashore and a group of beachcombers walk
up to it, realize what it is, and run away screaming, to the final fade
out, this movie grabs the viewer's attention and holds it.
The acting is brilliant, from the stand out performances of the two leads, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet to the smallest bit players. Zachary Scott in his first screen appearance is a knockout as the coldblooded, calculating, ruthless international schemer, Dimitrios Makropoulos. Faye Emerson as one of the women, Irana Preveza, Dimitrios used for his own selfish purposes then discarded is uncanny as she changes from a beautiful nightclub singer (in the flashback) to the worn out haggard shadow of a person she has become when relating her story to Cornelius Leyden (Lorre). She tells Leyden that Dimitrios was the only man she was ever actually afraid of. Adding to the effectiveness of this scene is the haunting "Perfidia (Tonight)," played in the background. Victor Francen gives a powerful portrayal of Wladislaw Grodek, someone else Dimitrios has double crossed.
The story unfolds as Leyden, a writer intrigued by Dimitrios' treachery, sets about to uncover as much information as possible about the archfiend in order to write a book. He views Dimitrios' corpse at the morgue then begins backtracking to separate fact from fiction. Enter a stranger who has been following him, a Mr. Peters or is it Peterson. The stranger too wants the facts on Dimitrios for what purpose is not clear.
Not only is the viewer enthralled by the picture of Dimitrios that slowly emerges, but the international scope of the hunt is riveting, Istanbul, the Hellespont, Sofia, Belgrade, Athens, Paris. This was also the time that Hitler's war was raging across Europe which only adds to the atmosphere involving spying and treason.
The Mask of Dimitrios is an adaptation of Eric Ambler's novel A Coffin
for Dimitrios directed by Rumanian-American director Jean
A corpse of a man is found washed up on a sea shore somewhere in
Bulgaria, which apparently is of Dimitrios Makropoulos, a sought after by
the police of various European countries notorious criminal.
A fiction writer Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre) gets interested in
Dimitrios' story and decides to conduct an investigation about his life and
death with the intent of writing a book about it. In order to do that he
begins a journey through Europe, following the trail of Dimitrios
activities, which begins in Istambul and ends in Paris.
On the way he is joined by a mysterious stranger Mr. Peters (Sydney Greenstreet) who, as it turns out to be, has the same mission of finding out about Dimitrios' life, but whose motivations are quite different.
A good but little seen Film-Noir classic. 8/10
This excellent slice of film noir sees classic actor Peter Lorre in a
role that is less sinister than what we're used to seeing from him, but
nevertheless; the refined performer manages a portrayal that really is
a major asset for this film. The plot takes in elements of mystery and
suspense and features themes of intrigue and greed at its centre. The
film follows a writer who learns of a devilishly intelligent criminal
by the name of Dimitrios Makropoulos, whose corpse is washed up on the
shore of Istanbul. Knowing that this will give him a good base for a
story, the writer follows his story across Europe and learns more and
more about the illusive criminal. Much of the film's plot takes place
in flashbacks, and in this respect, Jean Negulesco's film is very
clever as we get to see the central figure's actions at the same time
as learning about the kind of man he is; and like the writer at the
heart of the tale, it's easy to become intrigued with the character of
Dimitrios by watching the flashbacks.
The cast really is a strong element of this film, and starring alongside Peter Lorre is his co-star in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and The Verdict (to name a few), Sydney Greenstreet. These two actors work well together, and this is shown by the way that their dialogue flows. They're a bit of an odd couple, with Lorre being a very short European and Greenstreet being an enormous Englishman, but really that just adds to the appeal. An excellent supporting performance from a very dapper Zachary Scott rounds off the film in the acting department. The Mask of Dimitrios benefits from its dark picture, which in turn lends the film a grim and foreboding atmosphere. The locations are good, as the film takes place across Europe, with scenes taking place in Paris, Istanbul and Athens to name a few places. The plot moves very well as it straddles between what is happening in the present and what went on in the past, and Frank Gruber's screenplay does a great job of ensuring that the characters are well thought-out in a film that is as intriguing as it is thrilling. Recommended.
This movie is as good as the Third Man and the cast is a classic keeper. Dimitrios is not as endearing as Harry but he is every bit as ruthless and amoral. The movie is fairly faithful to Eric Ambler's book (A Coffin for Dimitrios). Sydney Greenstreet is in perfect character, Mr. Peters, as Sydney Greenstreet or should I say the character he portrays in the Maltese Falcon, Casablanca or Across the Pacific. Peter Lorre plays it straight as a writer, Charles Latimer, who discovers for the first time that there are men like Dimitrios Makropoulos, a man who can draw others to him but who has no love for anyone except himself a man who is truly amoral. This changes Latimer such that you know he will no longer be as trusting again. He is like all persons who naively trust in a world of rules and then confronts the fact that there are people who succeed by taking advantage of the rest of us because they know we live within the rules. Finally Zachary Scott was an excellent choice as Dimitrios. He is charming, handsome with the countenance of a reptile. I WANT THIS MOVIE TO BE DIGITIZED AND PUT ON DVD. IT IS GREAT!
Mystery writer Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre) attends a dinner party
where he is told about the recent discovery of the body of a master criminal
by Colonel Haki, chief of the local police. When Leyden learns that the
criminal, Dimitrios Makropoulos, avoided capture for years, and engaged in
everything from smuggling, blackmail, murder, and political assassination,
he becomes intrigued, and begins an odyssey which takes him to many exotic
locals in a bid to meet the actual people who dealt with, and managed to
survive, encounters with the ruthless Dimitrios.
Leyden meets Irana Preveya, who met Dimitrios when he barged into her apartment to seize a crust of bread when he was on the verge of starvation. In flashback, we see how her story unfolds. She begins by saying, "I have known many men, but I've only been afraid of one ... Demitrios."
Then Leyden meets Grodek, a master spy, (superbly played by Victor Francen). Grodek reveals how years ago he employed Dimitrios to steal a naval chart of some important mine fields. In flashback, we see how he and Dimitrios duped Bulic, a short, pudding faced government employee, (played by Steven Geray) by first causing him to fall into debt, then by coercing him to steal the chart from an office down the hall from his own post. It was almost too much watching these two suave criminals befuddle this kindly little man.
All the while, Leyden accidentally encounters a stout gentleman in trains, restaurants, and other places. But it's no accident. The man is Mr. Peters, played by Sydney Greenstreet. Greenstreet is interested in Leyden, because Leyden is interested in Dimitrios. They soon combine forces as the films surges towards a gripping climax.
This is one of the great films of the 40's. Zachary Scott, in his 1st film, gives an oscar caliber performance as the cunning, charming, and totally ruthless Dimitrios Makropolus. There are other great performances all around, and this may be the only film where Peter Lorre gets to play himself. His character is complex. At first Leyden seems to have a cavalier interest in Dimitrios, but he has a drive and perseverence that are not at once evident. Greenstreet is masterful as the charming and courteous Mr. Peters. Yet, just below the surface of his polite veneer, he is full of vengeance. This film is a must for those who love mystery and international intrigue.
If the Mask of Dimitrios was made today there would be car chases,explosions,and bloody encounters with cannon fodder Nazi agents,with the dialogue reduced to hopefully witty one liners. And a love interest for one of the photogenic heroes to rescue from the clutches of ... Dimitrios! The original movie shows the difference between actors ( Greenstreet,Lorre, Francen, Geray,and Scott who is probably the greatest personification of the Oily Weasel God on screen.)and "stars" past and present. The storyline now seems old the search for the true history of an infamous individual;Cititzen Kane was just three years old when this movie came out, but the story seems real as are its characters. They and the sets show an unglamourous Europe that is still reeling from the catastrophes of WW1, disease,the Depression,and the rise of dictatorships large and small. It's in the smaller,lesser known jackbooted world of the Balkans that the events of the novel and film occur in,an area generally not mentioned in movies of that era unless it's Captaine Renault's interrupted affair with a young Bulgarian woman in "Casablanca" The actors aren't the usual glam cam fodder they look like they exist in this world and that happens to reinforce my enjoyment of the film. A good film to see after watching a bang bang boom boom "star" exhibition.
Wonderful suspense film, with Lorre and Greenstreet, the Mutt and Jeff, of international intrigue, at the very top of their game, a great screen debut by Zachery Scott in the title role, and Victor Francen's very best performance in a minor but vital part. Atmosphere galore. -This- is the kind of film Warner Brothers did better than anyone else.
I saw this movie 3 times in blackout conditions in 1944 on the German front just before the Battle of the Bulge. That was 3 separate times and apparently it was the only movie on the whole front. I just viewed it again today, 2002, and showed not a bit of age. It is exciting though it is 75% talk and 25% action. But what talk: Greenstreet and Lorre!! All the parts are finely chosen and hand polished until they fit the space perfectly. They don't make them like this anymore. Put it with Casablanca, Maltese Falcon (Bogart one), Key Largo, etc. If you like these, you'll love the Mask. And Col. Haki is great and in a previous movie was played by Orson Wells, i.e., another Eric Ambler movie. It is the Balkans in 1938 and background shots are exciting. If you don't know Faye Emerson, you will wish you did. Rush out and rent it.
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