Mask of Dimitrios, The (1944): Jean Negulesco’s Mystery 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”).


Theatrical release poster


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, when Dutch mystery writer Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre) arrives for a visit. Colonel Haki (Kurt Katch) of the Turkish police, a fan of Leyden’s, intrigues him with the story of Dimitrios Makropoulos (Scott), a criminal whose body was washed up on the beach.

Leyden sets out to meet Dimitrios’ associates in Europe, who all attest to a sordid life, especially his former lover, Irana Preveza (Faye Emerson), who relates a failed assassination attempt and money borrowed.

Leyden then meets Mr. Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), who had dealings with Dimitrios (he was sent to prison when Dimitrios betrayed their smuggling ring). Peters plans to blackmail him for keeping his secret, and offers a share, which the latter declines. money.

Wladislaw Grodek (Victor Francen), another associate, had hired Dimitrios to obtain state secrets. Dimitrios manipulated Karel Bulic (Steven Geray), a 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.

When tracked in Paris, fearful of being exposed, he pays Peters for his silence but then shoots him. Peters admits of shooting Dimitrios and, upon arrest by the police, he asks Leyden to write a book about the affair.

Underestimated at the rime of release, the film has gained in stature over time, which younger critics pointing out the effective atmosphere, recalling Hitchcock’s style, the swift action, and the dialogue, which is often sharp.

Most impressive are the performances of Lorre and, especially, Greenstreet as the master crook. Both actors had scored the year before in the Oscar-winning Casablanca, and this is one of the few movies in which Greenstreet (though typecast) had a major role.


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


Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Henry Blanke
Screenplay by Frank Gruber, based on “The Mask of Dimitrios,” 1939 novel by Eric Ambler
Music by Adolph Deutsch
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Edited by Frederick Richards
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: June 23, 1944

Running time: 95 minutes


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