In the early thriller novels of Englishman, Eric Ambler, the typical Ambler hero is a timid everyman who becomes unwittingly embroiled in a nefarious and dangerous caper where he discovers guile and courage he never thought he had. In this Hollywood adaptation of Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios (aka A Coffin for Dimitrios), Peter Lorre is that everyman. A writer of murder mysteries who has never seen a dead body. His efforts to deal with this lapse embroil him in an adventure across the Levant in search of the story of a dead man.
His at first unwelcome accomplice is for all appearances a genteel Englishman who laments the lack of kindness in the world. No prizes for guessing there is more to this gentility when you learn the gentlemen is Mr Sydney Greenstreet. There is serious magic in this pairing as these two men enter into a pact. The story is secondary here. You are are along for the ride. Faye Emerson pops up as a world-weary cabaret-owner who may know something, but again the thrill is in her languor and Dietrich-like visage. Add to this heady mix a Turkish dancer in exotic garb and a cigarette hanging from her lips as she gyrates centre-stage.
The Mask of Dimitrios exemplifies the golden years of Hollywood. Great acting talent, high production values, and dialog that celebrates language and intelligent repartee. Zachary Scott as a suave villain, and the wonderful Steven Geray as a hapless dupe, add immense value.
Director Jean Negulesco and DP Arthur Edeson create an ambience of dark oriental intrigue aided beautifully by an evocative score from Adolf Deutsch, with impressive art direction from Ted Smith and voluptuous set decoration courtesy of Walter Tilford.
You must join this intrepid pair on their journey of intrigue.
4 thoughts on “The Mask of Dimitrios (1944): A journey of dark oriental intrigue”
“You must join this intrepid pair on their journey of intrigue.”
Love the spirit of this fabulous review, which beautifully captures the essence and the craftsmanship of this top-flight work from the Golden period. Negulesco is known as the director of JOHNNY BELINDA, HUMORESQUE. THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN and NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, but DEMITRIOS may well be his masterpiece. The encore from Lorre and Greenstreet would itself be enough to make this an essential watch, but as note in this wide appreciation of all the components, there’s so much more. Yes, the adaptation from Ambler’s work is a gem, and that lovely score by Deutsch is great as a stand alone.
What do they say about films like this?
They don’t make em like that anymore! After reading this, it’s time to pop in that Warner Archives made to order DVD! Great stuff, and a banner appreciation here!
Thanks Sam and ditto:”They don’t make em like that anymore!”
Nice review Tony. I just watched this for the first time yesterday. It is certainly a gem with a lot going for it, first and foremost of course being the team of Lorre & Greenstreet. It just has that great classic film/film noir feel. If I’m not mistaken, the film was unavailable on DVD until this year. The Warner Archive DVD’s picture quality was decent, albeit with couple minor issues here and there and the sound clear.
Thanks Lee. Yes the Warner Archive release is certainly timely. I re-read Ambler’s novel last week, and just like The Maltese Falcon, after seeing the movie the novel’s characters can’t be imagined otherwise.