The Mask of Dimitrios is a film noir from 1944 with the dynamic noir duo of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. This is the first feature film of director Jean Negulesco. Negulesco was slated to direct the Maltese Falcon in 1941, but was soon replaced by John Huston. He finally got his big break with this film and went on to a great career as a director in Hollywood. He also teamed up with Lorre and Greenstreet for a few more films. This is also the first film of Zachary Scott. This movie is based on the book A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.
Our story starts with a dead body washing up on shore in Turkey. This body is identified to be Dimitrios Makropoulos,a slick criminal that Colonel Haki has taken special interest in. Haki is played by Kurt Katch in this film. Colonel Haki in this film is the same character played by Orson Welles in Journey Into Fear a year earlier. I reviewed Journey Into Fear here:
Haki tells Cornelius Leyden, played by Lorre, a time line of Dimitrios’ crimes and past locations. Leyden is an author of detective stories and is intrigued by Dimitrios’ story and decides to further investigate him for a future book. As Leyden starts his investigation at the records office in Greece we soon see Mr. Peters…or is it Mr. Peterson? played by Greenstreet following Leyden. They soon meet on a train as Mr. Peters tells Leyden where to stay at his next stop. This film also uses flashback scenes to tell Dimitrios’ story as Leyden learns more and more about him. The mystery grows as we learn more about Dimitrios’ past. Will we find the connection between Mr. Peters and Dimitrios? Will we find out how Dimitrios died and why? Will Leyden get the story he wants for his next book?
This film has a pretty interesting story and hooks you as you want to learn more. I have to say though, my favorite parts of this film are the scenes of simple conversation between the two leads. Greenstreet and Lorre are two great actors and how they deliver their lines and interact with each other are some of the best I have ever seen. I can see why they where teamed up for 9 films together.
Zachary Scott is also very good as the title character, playing a smart charming criminal and spy.
The Mask of Dinitrios is a film noir I never really heard about until TCM’s Summer of Darkness. I liked the two leads in the Maltese Falcon and other films and was intrigued. This was a big hit when it was released in 1944 and not sure why it is not talked about more these days. This film is amazing and worth seeing for any classic film lover. If you are a fan of any of the three leads, and who isn’t?, you will love this film.
Favorite Tidbit: The character Dimitrios Makropoulos is inspired by Basil Zaharoff, a Greek-born arms dealer who became one of the richest man in the world and was known as “merchant of death” and “mystery man of Europe.”