Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

I am really feeling blessed with all the new little treasures I've been seeing for the first time on TCM lately. The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) is a wonderful 'B' movie with two of my favorites, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.

Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet

A visiting mystery writer named Leyden (Peter Lorre) is intrigued by the tale of notorious criminal Dimitrios Makropolous, (Zachary Scott) whose body was found washed up on the shore in Istanbul. He decides to follow the career of Dimitrios around Europe, to learn more about the man. Along the way, he is joined by mysterious Mr. Peters, (Sydney Greenstreet) who has his own reasons for tracking the elusive criminal, reasons that do not involve research for a book.

Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet

Moving quickly through Istanbul, Athens, Sofia, Geneva, Belgrade and Paris, the plot never lags as each stop adds an episode to the nefarious history of the arch criminal Dimitrios. 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: Istanbul police detective Kurt Katch; Sofia nightclub owner Faye Emerson; Bulgarian newspaper corespondent Eduardo Ciannelli; and, finally, spy master Victor Francen in Geneva. Steven Geray does a wonderful job as a most unfortunate Yugoslavian governmental clerk with Marjorie Hoshelle as his indolent and greedy wife.

Peter Lorre and Kurt Katch

Peter Lorre and Faye Emerson

As the despicable Dimitrios, Zachary Scott, excellent in his first screen role, combines a totally amoral character with a certain amount of dash and ruthless charm.

Peter Lorre, Zachary Scott and Sydney Greenstreet

Although inexplicably billed 4th, Lorre is the undoubted star of the effort, and plays a character deeper and much less sinister than we are used to seeing from him. The teaming with Greenstreet under the direction of Jean Negulesco would be repeated a couple of years later in Three Strangers (1946) which is another wonderful gem. One can only wish that there had been more.

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