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Zachary Scott made a smashing screen debut in the title role in The
Mask Of Dimitrios for Warner Brothers in 1944. The film stays close to
the Eric Ambler novel on which it is based and Scott is helped with the
classic presence of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in the cast. In
fact Lorre and Greenstreet have as much screen time as Scott.
The film is told mostly in flashback after Peter Lorre who is a mystery writer by trade identifies a body that has been fished from the Bosporus to Turkish police as that of Dimitrios Makropoulos a ruthless adventurer for hire. First hearing about the exploits of this international scoundrel from Turkish police inspector Kurt Katch, Lorre becomes fascinated by the man and determines to learn as much as he can from as many sources as he can find. Some of those sources include Greenstreet, Victor Francen, and Faye Emerson who share their recollections of Scott and their bad experiences with him that left them sadder and wiser.
Jean Negulesco who later moved over to 20th Century Fox and did a lot more lighter type films, many for Clifton Webb did a crackerjack job with his players and with creating a terrific atmosphere of malevolence, especially around Scott. You will search far and wide and not find too many performances that are a study in pure evil as what Scott did with Dimitrios Makropoulos.
In the supporting cast Stefan Geray who usually played nebbish types whether good or bad in my opinion got his career role playing an inoffensive Yugoslav civil servant whom Scott turns into a spy after getting him deep in gambling debt. Aiding and abetting Scott is Geray's slovenly wife Marjorie Hoshelle who later became Mrs. Jeff Chandler. Geray is the one you remember after Zachary Scott in this film.
The Mask Of Dimitrios holds up remarkably well after almost 70 years. If a remake were made, I can't even conceive of who would be cast in it today. Where could you find such characters as Lorre, Greenstreet, or Scott?
This film was made in 1944, thus many of Warner Bros. so-called A-List
stars were not available for making motion pictures since many were
serving in the armed forces during World War II. Peter Lorre and Sydney
Greenstreet usually played in support of other Warner stars, most
notably Humphrey Bogart. This time, they got a film of their own, and
the result is a most enjoyable and somewhat unusual film noir. Lorre
plays Dutch author Cornelius Leyden who is on vacation in Istanbul when
he listens to the tale of the career of legendary criminal Dimitrios
Makropoulos, whose bloated body has washed ashore that day. Intrigued
by the story, Leyden then begins a trek across Europe to learn all he
can about Dimitrios in preparation for a book he wishes to write. Mr.
Peters, played by Sydney Greenstreet, joins him in his travels.
However, he has darker motivations.
Because it is set in 1938, this allows the film to avoid the subject of World War II which would make Leyden's travels impossible, but also avoids making the film a period piece by traveling only six years into the past. Zachary Scott does a good job in the title role as we learn about the extent of Dimitrios' treachery through well-done flashbacks. He seems to be a man who not only wants to steal anything not nailed down, but actually enjoys the pain he causes others. The theme seems to be that a person so completely despicable as Dimitrios must be successful for a time because few will anticipate the next move of such a treacherous individual - at least not for awhile. Thus there are obvious parallels being drawn between Dimitrios and Hitler.
This is one of many films made during this time period for patriotic reasons, although this one is more subtle than most of them. However, it is not dated at all and stands up today as good entertainment.
"The Mask of Dimitrios" has been one of my favorite films since I was a
kid - and I've been consistently amazed at how obscure it is. The
movie's got great atmosphere, a rock-solid script, and two legendary
character actors in the forms of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre,
and yet it remains basically unknown and unheralded. To date, it hasn't
even been released on DVD (to my knowledge), and I'm always forced to
revisit the same fuzzy VHS print I've been watching for ages!
I suppose I understand why the movie's a bit forgotten. It hasn't got any big-name stars like Bogart or Bacall; Greenstreet and Lorre are usually their supporting players, not the headliners. Also, the story does sag at a few points, and it isn't exactly heavy on action. But I still think "The Mask of Dimitrios" is ripe for rediscovery and reassessment by film buffs.
The thoughtful storyline centers around the efforts of a mystery writer (Lorre) to uncover information about the life of Dimitrious (Zachary Scott), a master criminal. Scott, who was a newcomer to Hollywood at the time he made this film, does a great job making Dimitrious come across as charismatic, dangerous, cunning and attractive, all at the same time. And, of course, Greenstreet and Lorre are brilliant at creating their own eccentric personas, which they seemed to carry effortlessly from film to film.
As I said before, the plot occasionally drags, especially when Dimitrious is absent from the screen for a while in the middle. (As much as I like Greenstreet, listening to him talk at length about Dimitrious isn't as interesting as seeing the man in action.) But the plot is episodic, moving between different exotic locations and different times in Dimitrious' career, so any lulls in the action are relatively brief and not too detrimental to the film as a whole.
Out of all the anecdotes about Dimitrious, I must say my favorite is the one where he cheats a hapless government clerk, Karel Bulic. It's great fun to watch Dimitrious mercilessly manipulate Bulic - and it's also a bit sad and tragic. Some of the other anecdotes are good, too, but the Bulic episode is clearly the best-developed and most emotionally charged, so it stands out.
Though I have a couple of minor gripes with the film, on the whole I enjoy it immensely. I find it to be a very unique viewing experience. The absence of a handsome, heroic leading man is highly unusual. (I guess Dimitrious could qualify as the handsome male lead, but he's unmistakably evil!) I also like seeing all of the different, bizarre locales - in terms of setting and exotic atmosphere, it's like a prototype Indiana Jones or James Bond movie. And, like many films of this period, it's got beautiful grayscale photography and tons of delectable film noir "mood."
If you can find a copy, watch it. If you're a fan of Greenstreet or Lorre, or noir in general, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a great movie. Interesting note was made by one reviewer on this site that Ambler was not as appreciated at Graham Greene. I also cannot help but see the comparisons with the even better film, THE THIRD MAN. To be MASK OF DIMITRIOS, which was written before and filmed before THE THIRD MAN, have a lot in common. A charming villain, the main protagonist is also a writer, this time of mysteries, and much more respected than Holy Martins. Also the ending, though this character turns out to be a coward compared to Harry Lime. I see MASK OF DIMITRIOS, to be the pre world war II THIRD MAN. Only difference here is perhaps there is not the moral ambiguity that I believe exists in the THIRD MAN. The film is atmospheric, and highly entertaining. What a great team Greenstreet and Lorre make. I find them much more entertaining here, and interesting than I did in (the highly overrated) THE MALTESE FALCON. Hopefully a good DVD will one day come out with good special features. It is deserving of that.
The movie is made in the same trend as "Citizen Kane" and the movie and
its story and storytelling were obviously inspired by the success and
greatness of the movie. This movie its main character is also featured
(almost) entirely just in flashback, when an intrigued detective-story
writer (Peter Lorre) ventures himself into a search of who the
notorious criminal Dimitrios Makropolous (Zachary Scott in his first
movie role) 'was', by interviewing people he met and had business with.
It's a perfect treatment for the main character, who takes mysterious and grand proportions as a cold-hearted ruthless criminal, who isn't afraid to kill and use people to complete his assignment. He is a great early movie villain, who is unpredictable, slick, smart and therefor an interesting person to follow. Though it's debatable whether it aren't Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet who are the real main characters of the movie. Their search and the story of Dimitrios Makropoulos are two separate stories in the movie, who yet feel as one. It therefor is perhaps most fair to say that the 3 of them are the main characters of the movie.
Zachary Scott plays he role effectively, though his performance will probably by todays standards be considered as formulaic and perhaps stiff. Peter Lorre is totally great in his role and he again is acting a lot with his body and especially his eyes. He plays a real great character, who is far from a hero or brave, which at the same time makes him very humane and therefor understandable and easy to relate with. Sydney Greenstreet is also totally great in his role. Greenstreet didn't played in an awful lot of movies during his career but when he did, his roles were always something special. He also appeared in many other classic movies from the '40's such as "The Maltese Falcon", "They Died with Their Boots On", "Casablanca", "Christmas in Connecticut" and the list goes on. Also fun to see how he almost always played the same sort of character. But why shouldn't he, he was absolute great at it, in basically every movie he appeared in.
The movie its style can be described as film-noir, set in a mysterious and more entertaining-light environment. The movie is not as heavy and serious as some of its other genre movies, which is perhaps also a reason why this movie isn't as well known as some of its fellow genre movies from the same time period. The atmosphere, camera-work and settings work moody for the movie, which provides this movie with a typical and unbeatable '40's flavor.
A movie really worth seeing, with a great memorable and suiting finale.
Viewed "Mask of Demetrious" for the first time in years last night. Forgot how stylish and witty it was. Favorite shot: when Greenstreet is going orgasmic over the money in his hands, suddenly stops and peers down, the camera following, until it stops on a very familiar hat! BTW, a previous poster said something about the only Hollywood stars to serve overseas in WW II being James Stewart and John Garfield. The rest were "entertaining troops" or something like that. You are quite wrong! First of all, Garfield wasn't in the service because of his heart condition; yes, Stewart was a distinguished pilot. Off the top of my head, the following movie people (some didn't enter films until after the war) served in the Armed Forces, Coast Guard or Merchant Marine during World War II: Lew Ayres (he was a conscientious objector whose career was ruined for some time because he refused to take up arms; he distinguished himself as an Army medic.) Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, William Lundigan, Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Victor Mature, James Arness, Raymond Massey (served in the Canadian Army in both World Wars), Tim Holt, Lee Marvin, Robert Taylor, Ossie Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Jason Robards Jr., Philip Carey, Robert Ryan, Eddie Albert, Louis Hayward, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Alec Guinness(Niven, Olivier, Guinness and Richardson served in British armed forces), Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Van Heflin, James Whitmore, Sterling Hayden, Edmond O'Brien, Tony Randall, Gary Merrill, Gene Autry, Richard Jaeckel, Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford, Neville Brand, Robert Stack, Tom Brown, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Kennedy, Leo McKern (served in Australian army despite having only one eye), Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charles Bronson, William Conrad, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Lee Tracy (served in both World Wars), John Payne, Sammy Davis Jr., Mickey Rooney, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Gene Kelly, Richard Fiske (Columbia contract player killed in France), Gabriel Dell, Bobby Jordan, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jeff Chandler, Tony Curtis, and numerous behind-the-scenes workers. Any questions?
I first saw this in the 70's on TV and a few years afterwards went on
to read the Eric Ambler novel and found the Warners film had been an
excellent adaptation, slightly shortened and simplified but not missing
anything important. It was from Ambler's pre-Army classic early period
and was a classic choice in which to bring Peter Lorre and Sydney
Greenstreet back together again. Alfred Hitchcock apparently thought
the story was "hypnotically fascinating", and I can only wonder what he
might have come up with if he'd made the film!
The death of the thoroughly rascally individual Dimitrios interests a Dutch writer of detective fiction Cornelius Leyden (altered from the English Charles Latimer in the book for some reason) played by Peter Lorre whose interest is fanned by the head of the Istanbul secret police Colonel Haki. One thing leads to another as sure as one fact uncovered leads to a journey to and from various people all over Europe in and out of flashback. It's all fascinating, convincing and engrossing in finding out about Dimitrios and the lives he'd led, and ended, in his quest for money and self-preservation over the previous fifteen years. To state he appeared to be a thoroughly bad hat is to put it mildly; one of those people it'd be best to cross the road to avoid. Add atmospheric sets nicely and atmospherically photographed in a gleaming nitrate monochrome, what more could lovers of the film noir genre want - not a femme fatale surely? Greenstreet will have to do instead... Two minor irritating non plot-dependent points though: in the book Bulic didn't "put a bullet through his head", and unfortunately the end of the film was er heavily Greenstreet-ised. It was Zachary Scott's film debut and most memorable role - a similar part to Orson Welles' Harry Lime five years later in The Third Man - and as the years went by neither of them seemed to be able to get a decent part.
Nowadays of course Leyden would've done all his researching and travelling on his smartphone and the story would be completely different and shorter still, even with sex and violence padding it out! Overall, a knockout film, recommended both as a movie and as a movie of the admittedly better book.
Dimitrios Makropoulos was all of those things, and more. And while the
film is about him, we see him just in flashbacks. Sydney Greenstreet
and Peter Lorre share the major screen time. I can't think of any
two-some who are more interesting and entertaining in a mystery flick.
Greenstreet and Lorre were made for each other.
A number of other good reviews give information on the film, the cast and the plot. This is one of novelist and playwright Eric Ambler's stories put to film. While an excellent story and film, it falls just a tad short of a great mystery (i.e., "The Maltese Falcon," "The Verdict," "Laura"). Perhaps it's because in viewing this movie in 2013, I had seen other films with themes of wrong identities. But, that idea may not have been so apparent to audiences in 1944.
The entire cast turned in excellent performances in this movie. The direction, lighting and sets were outstanding. On the latter, I think "The Mask of Dimitrios" can serve as an example of how Hollywood could transport audiences around the world by the design of excellent sets right on studio lots. This wasn't a film with panoramic vistas or great scenes outdoors. But it does give the viewer a sense of being in Istanbul, on a trans-Balkan train to Sofia and then Geneva, and of being in Paris.
All in all, an excellent movie and film to add to any mystery library or collections of Greenstreet and Lorre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This character was not a nice guy. A sociopath with a capital S. I
can't imagine spies being this bad. This guy is just one of those in
life you throw on the scrap heap and forget about him.
Peter Lorre plays a detective story writer visiting a party when he happens on a local cop who mentions he's a fan of his work. He also mentions the recent death of a super spy...Dimitrios. He proceeds to tell him what he knows about Dimitrios. Lorre gets very intrigued about this character and decides it will make a great new story. Along the way he runs into Dimitrios' acquaintances and enemies. Syndey Greenstreet being one of them. With this we follow through to every European locale to learn more about this elusive Greek Euro spy.
I really enjoyed this little crime gem. It has all the earmarks as other films of its time. It has a similar feel to Maltese Falcon and a few other films. The crux of this character is you only learn about him through others recollections. Nobody really knows him except a select few. He's almost a myth. He has the mystique and mystery of Keyser Soze and the absolute sociopathic tendencies of Harry Lyme. This was a full 6 years before the Third Man to. Dimitrios is a seriously loathsome character.
I think any who enjoyed The Maltese Falcon will indeed dig this one. Peter Lorre was pigeon-holed into these types of characters but there was a reason for it...he was perfect at em. It's easy to see why so many people liked this little guy. He's intriguing and you feel for him because of his stature...but don't be fooled. He's no pushover.
A fine little crime film worth seeing more than once.
The Mask of Dimetrios is one of the great "film noir" movies of the
1940s. I think the major reason it has been so neglected and under-
shown is that it is one of the few Hollywood movies of that era that
didn't have any big, leading stars in it. In fact, one of the things I
like most about this film is that it is one of the few movies of that
period that really gave the supporting players, the ones whose names
never appeared above the title, a chance to shine.
Don't think for one moment that the lack of big-name stars means that this movie is in any way second-rate. There really were some terrific character actors knocking around Hollywood at that time, courtesy of Adolf Hitler, who drove almost all of the leading film talent out of Europe and into the United States.
The rather convoluted story, about an investigation into the past history of a late and not lamented career criminal, is derived from the pen of Erik Ambler. The protagonist (one cannot really call him a hero) commits by turns robbery, murder, blackmail, political assassination, espionage and betrayal without batting an eye. The plot wends it's way from Istanbul to Athens, to Sofia, to Geneva, to Bucharest, and finally to Paris. Don't expect any car chases or explosions, the characters in this story don't work that way. Instead they plot, maneuver, connive, and generally mess with each other. It's a world where a mere scrap of information could be worth a cool million, provided the possessor knows the value of that scrap of information, and to whom, and precisely how to use it.
"The Mask of Dimetrios" is highly recommended to those who appreciate films such as "The Maltese Falcon", "The Big Sleep" and "The Third Man" .
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