Movie review: “The Mask of Dimitrios” (1944)

mask of dimitrios

I fell in love with this small movie, “The Mask of Dimitrios,” the first time I saw it. I ululate with pleasure every time it’s on Turner Classic Movies, and I record it and watch it two or three times over.

Summary: Peter Lorre, a Dutch mystery writer, becomes interested in the death of a criminal named Dimitrios Makropoulos in Istanbul. He follows Dimitrios’s story from Istanbul to Athens to Sofia to Geneva to Paris. He comes across all kinds of interesting people, all of whom know strange and incriminating things about poor dead Dimitrios. Then he realizes that Sydney Greenstreet, a jolly Englishman, seems to be following him on his journey of discovery . . .

Robert Osborne, the TMC host, calls this “no great shakes of a movie,” and a “guilty pleasure”: one of those noirish Warner Brothers movies in which people look mysterious and run up and down staircases.

He’s right about all of the above.

But the movie is a real pleasure, not just a guilty pleasure.

It is a pleasure to watch the creepy / plausible Peter Lorre make his way through Europe, discovering what he can about Dimitrios. (This is one of those movies in which we see a physical map of Europe, and we move from city to city, step by step.)

It is a pleasure to see Sydney Greenstreet run the gamut from obnoxious fellow tourist to threatening criminal to – what? – a friend.

It is a pleasure to see Faye Emerson as a bar-owner in Sofia, throatily intoning her memories of Dimitrios.

It is a pleasure to see the lean dark-eyed weasel-like Zachary Scott as Dimitrios, who may or may not be dead.

My favorite moment is toward the end of the movie, when Greenstreet gets shot. Lorre has a conniption fit, as only Lorre can. “He vas my friend!” he seethes. “Vell, he vasn’t exactly my friend, but – vell, I liked him!”

It’s a dramatic moment, and it makes me laugh every time.

“No great shakes of a movie”?

It’s a terrific movie.

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