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Erich von Stroheim,
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A magician neglects his career and his wife while he pursues the study of hypnosis. His inattention causes his wife to leave him for a younger man. The magician them begins to use his hypnotic powers to manipulate people and to avenge himself. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cheap Production, Lurid Script Mask Von Stroheim's Talent
The year 1946 was one of the best for great movies, giving us such winners as The Best Years of Our Lives, The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, and Canyon Passage. Unfortunately The Mask of Diijon was not one of these.
Bizarre actor-director Eric Von Stroheim had his triumphs in a long career, which dated back to the early silent era -- as a director, Foolish Wives (1922), The Merry Widow (1925) -- as an actor, The Grand Illusion (1937), Sunset Blvd. (1950). Unfortunately The Mask of Diijon was not one of these.
Showing up in Hollywood just before World War I, Stroheim excelled playing cruel German officers with his trademarked shaved head and monocle. He passed himself off as an Austrian aristocrat and a military expert, claiming he had served as an officer in an elite cavalry regiment. In reality he was from a respectable Jewish lower middle class family, and the closest he got to the cavalry was a brief stint as a mounted mail carrier. Never mind, the self-made legend was born, and it stuck to him all his life. He was billed as "the Hun" and "the man you love to hate." His career as a director was over by the late twenties. After several expensive flops, studio bosses were tired of his extravagant ways and his egotistical, abrasive personality. He continued on as an actor though, on occasion rising out of mediocrity with such as The Grand Illusion (1937) and Five Graves to Cairo (1943), in the latter of which he played German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel!
The Mask of Diijon is a long way down from those days, possibly Stroheim's darkest pit with the light of Sunset Blvd four years distant. This is a very cheap production. No-name actors, except for "the Hun", cheap sets, bad lighting, and awful script. The use of many dark scenes that some people may mistake for arty noir style is obviously just the result of not wanting to spend the dough for bright lights. Murky was the word all the way through. The acting was uninspired but not terrible, especially considering the cast got maybe 20 seconds per scene to rehearse in a budget-minded number like this. The story was the real killer though. Disturbed, paranoid magician uses hypnotism to get innocent victims to do his will, including suicide and murder. His hokey method of hypnotizing these clucks is simply reflecting off a shiny lighter into their eyes and mumbling something like, "You vill do vatefer I say!" And get this -- he learns this evil, occult skill simply by reading some books with self-help type titles something like How to Control People with Your Mind. Puleazee!!! If it were that easy to hypnotize people, I would have my grouchy old wife packed and down the road tonight, and by tomorrow night I would have a half-dozen young babes cavorting about my house! Come to think of it, I would have to hypnotize myself into being able to cavort. Never mind.
There were a few good moments in The Mask of Diijon, but I found myself continually praying the 70 minutes would finally drag to an end (I'm one of those masochist types who can't just turn one off). This movie is a stinker -- only for Von Stroheim devotees or desperate insomniacs.
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