Friday, December 6, 2019
Noir-ish Watch: The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Look, if a movie has Sydney Greenstreet in it, I'm watching it. And I've never been disappointed.
Of course, this movie *also* features Peter Lorre, so, that's two great performers of the era. Add in Zachary Scott in his screen debut, and I was positively jazzed to watch The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), a movie I'd oft-head referenced, but never seen.
A war-time effort, the cast is small, and you're not getting the actors who either were in the middle of serving (and many, many of them did), or who didn't serve and were in demand for others types of roles. So, you get two guys who were going to be 4F just on sight and Zachary Scott, and for whatever reason Scott didn't serve (look, not everyone did).
The film follows Lorre, a mystery writer, as he learns of an arch-criminal of the European underworld, a spy, and an all-around fiend who has just washed up dead near where he's staying in Istanbul. Intrigued, he begins his travels to track down the story of the man, finding first one connection and then another. Through a series of anecdotes, presented as flashbacks, he learns of the rise and misdeeds of Dimitrios, Along the way, he's met by Greenstreet who claims their shared information could net them 1 million francs.
That's all I want to spoil.
Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie is a crazy bumper car ride through some really well dressed sets and scenes, all of which sell the globe-trotting European adventure of Lorre's detective stories writer. The performers bounce off one another perfectly, building an energy in a movie that maybe has some plotholes and other issues, enough to ignore all that just watch them go.
Faye Emerson (on the poster) plays a pivotal but small (by screen-time) role. And she's pretty good! But mostly it's a lot of older guys on screen. Honestly, Lorre and Greenstreet seem to be having a ball - they've got the same energy as in Maltese Falcon and Three Strangers, the sort of thing you can always see between actors that just mesh particularly well. Scott's scenes are mostly away from Greenstreet and Lorre, but, man, when all three are on screen together, that's some decent stuff.
Even Eddie Muller described the movie as mostly "noir adjacent", I believe. I'd say it shares plenty of noir visual styling and concepts, but it doesn't challenge the characters the same way. There's no reckoning with anyone stepping beyond society's boundaries or throwing it all away for a dame. But, in it's own way, a bit like Knives Out, it's a brand of entertainment that can be fun while playing in the dark. How can you take it seriously when your rogues gallery seems to be having such a good time?