Mask of Dimitrios, The: Negulesco’s Film Noir, Starring Zachary Scott

Jean Negulesco directed The Mask of Dimitrios, a film noir written by Frank Gruber, based on Eric Ambler’s 1939 novel (published as “A Coffin for Dimitrios”).

Zachary Scott made his screen debut in this film, after impressive performance on Broadway in “Those Endearing Young Charms.”

The tale begins in 1938, in Istanbul, visited by Dutch mystery writer Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre). Colonel Haki (Kurt Katch) of the Turkish police, a fan of Leyden’s, intrigues him with the story of Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott), a criminal whose body was washed up on the beach.

Leyden sets out to meet Dimitrios’ associates in Europe, none of whom has a kind word for the deceased. They all attest to a sordid life, especially his former lover, Irana Preveza (Faye Emerson), who relates a failed assassination attempt, money borrowed and never returned.

Leyden then meets Mr. Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), who had dealings with Dimitrios (he was sent to prison when Dimitrios betrayed their smuggling ring).  Unconvinced that the man is dead, Peters plans to blackmail him for keeping his secret. He offers Leyden a share, but the latter is not interested in money.

Wladislaw Grodek (Victor Francen), another associate, had hired Dimitrios to obtain state secrets. Dimitrios manipulated Karel Bulic (Steven Geray), a minor Yugoslav government official, into gambling and losing, so he could pressure him into stealing charts of minefields. Bulic later confessed to the authorities and committed suicide. Meanwhile, Dimitrios double-crossed Grodek, selling the charts himself to the Italian government.

Eventually, the two men track Dimitrios down in Paris. Fearful of being exposed, he pays Peters for his silence but then goes to his home and shoots him. Leyden grapples with Dimitrios, allowing the wounded Peters to grab the gun. Peters sends Leyden away to spare him from witnessing the violence to come.

Peters admits to the police of shooting Dimitrios and does not resist arrest. Upon leaving, he asks Leyden to write a book about the affair, and send him a copy.

Cast

Sydney Greenstreet as Mr. Peters
Zachary Scott as Dimitrios Makropoulos
Faye Emerson as Irana Preveza
Peter Lorre as Cornelius Leyden
Victor Francen as Wladislaw Grodek
Steven Geray as Karol Bulic
Florence Bates as Madame Elise Chavez
Eduardo Ciannelli as Marukakis
John Abbott as Mr. Pappas
Monte Blue as Abdul Dhris

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on November 30, 2019.

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