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Saturday, May 24, 2014

THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (1944)

Warner Bros. followed up THE MALTESE FALCON/’41 by pairing its two unlikely Mutt & Jeff character stars (Peter Lorre & Sydney Greenstreet) in a series of inexpensive, but slick looking mysteries. This one, an early credit for director Jean Negulesco after a series of well received short subjects, is probably the best of the bunch, a tidy thriller about Dimitrios Makropoulos (debuting Zachary Scott), a dangerously unscrupulous confidence man with a killer smile . . . make that a killer’s smile. Someone’s finally caught up with this fast-moving villain, but his backstory (along with a viewing of the corpse) intrigue crime author Peter Lorre. Maybe there’s a book in there.  Or maybe there’s cash to be had just from selling the info he’s already picked up. That’s what Sydney Greenstreet thinks, if only Lorre would share what he knew. But first, Lorre needs to fill himself in on this peripatetic scoundrel, picking up pieces of the puzzle from past victims. There’s more circling than action in the story, but the cast, dialogue & atmosphere are terrific. Negulesco, with his background in the fine arts, gets a lot of European flavor on screen, ably assisted by a heavily accented supporting cast, and by retaining FALCON’s D.P. (Arthur Edeson) & composer (Adolph Deutsch). The climax is a bit of a mess, but it doesn’t do much damage. Beautiful print from Warners Archive, too.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: The story structure -- writer visits a few of his subject’s past acquaintances and gets a handle on the dead man’s life thru their differing POVs (all told in flashback) -- is a bit like CITIZEN KANE/’41. Coincidence? Maybe not. It’s taken from an Eric Ambler novel,  whose JOURNEY INTO FEAR was filmed the previous year by Orson Welles’ Mercury Players. It’s only available in Region 2, but a Stateside compatible DVD can’t be too far off.

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