In 1938 Istanbul, a body washes up on shore. The body is of Dimitrios Markropoulos (Zachary Scott). Colonel Haki (Kurt Katch) from the Turkish police has no clues as to who killed the man and privately is not unhappy that the evil Dimitrios is dead. When the Colonel attends a party given by one of the high society families of Istanbul he meets the Dutch mystery writer Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre).
The Colonel is a big fan of Leyden’s work and takes him aside to tell him about the murder of Dimitrios. Leyden becomes intrigued by the story. With some information from Haki, Leyden back tracks through Dimitrios’ life to find out more about the man. From early on Dimitrios had been on the wrong side of the law, but on the right side of luck. He starts his search for information based on what little Haki could tell him.
Dimitrios was born in 1889. In Smyrna in 1922 he killed a man during a robbery and left someone else to take the blame. In Athens he operated under the alias Talat. He then went to Sofia in 1923 and was involved in an assassination attempt of Premier Stambulisky. Then on to Belgrade in 1926 where he dealt in military secrets. In 1929 to 1931 he was involved in smuggling in Paris. Then to Istanbul where his luck ran out and he is was murdered in 1938.
Retracing the criminal’s life, Leyden goes to Athens and finds out that under an alias that he was wanted for robbery and attempted murder. He then heads for Sofia. On the train he meets Mr. Peters (Sydney Greenstreet) and is unaware that Mr. Peters is actually following him. Leyden’s contact in Sofia is a newspaper man named Marukakis (Eduardo Ciannelli). Marukakis brings him to see Dimitrios’ ex-lover Iranan Prevaza (Faye Emerson). From her he learns that after the failed assassinate attempt he left town owing her money.
When he returns to his hotel room he finds Peters ransacking the place. Peters is rather cryptic about his interest in Dimitrios. When he learns that Leyden actually saw his body Peters gives him the name of someone to see in Belgrade to get more information. Wladislaw Grodke (Victor Francen) was in on the military secret scam and gives Leyden the scoop on the con used to get the information. Leyden then goes on to Paris where he meets up with Peters again. Peters finally tells Leyden that he believes Dimitrios is not dead. He then tells Leyden about his blackmail scheme to get a million francs from the con man but Leyden is not convinced that Dimitrios is actually alive.
“The Mask of Dimitrios” was released in 1944 and was directed by Jean Negulesco. It is an American crime drama and a film noir. It is based on the novel by Eric Amber written in 1939. The American version of the novel was published as “A Coffin for Dimitrios”.
The movie is the fifth time out of nine where Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are together in a film. For some reason, even though both men are in the film, the movie is a little on the obscure side. It wasn’t released on DVD until 2013.
The set up and pace of the film reminded me a little of “Laura” 1944 except that Leyden doesn’t fall in love with the subject of his investigation. Most of the story is told in flashbacks by other characters in the film.
The Lorre and Greenstreet characters are fun to watch. The way they play off each other is part of what makes the film so good. It is nice to see supporting actors given the chance to carry a film by themselves. Lorre is not exactly the hero of the story but one of the few characters who isn’t a low life of some kind. It’s Lorre’s investigation we follow all through the movie. Greenstreet is greasily charming yet with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. The plot is quite involved but not outrageously difficult to follow. Each new character tells their part of the story as a sort of vignette to the overall story of Dimitrios’ life. The film isn’t action packed but it does flow nicely. Altogether it’s a delightful spy story.