The Mask of Dimitrios

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The Mask of Dimitrios
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJean Negulesco
Screenplay byFrank Gruber
Based onThe Mask of Dimitrios
1939 novel
by Eric Ambler
Produced byHenry Blanke
StarringSydney Greenstreet
Zachary Scott
Faye Emerson
Peter Lorre
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byFrederick Richards
Music byAdolph Deutsch
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 23, 1944 (1944-06-23)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Mask of Dimitrios is a 1944 American film noir starring Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson, Peter Lorre, and Victor Francen. Directed by Jean Negulesco, it was written by Frank Gruber, based on the 1939 novel of the same title written by Eric Ambler.[1] Scott played the title role, of Dimitrios Makropoulos, in his film debut.


In 1938, the Dutch mystery writer Cornelius Leyden is visiting Istanbul. At an evening soiree a fan, Colonel Haki of the Turkish police, believes he would be interested in the story of international intriguer and master criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos, whose body was just washed up on a local beach. Leyden is immediately captivated by what he learns about the Salonika-born one-time fig packer's tale.

The two go to a mortuary to view the body, straining the timid writer's stomach.

Haki then takes Leyden to meet a former lover of Dimitrios, now the madame at a local brothel, igniting a quest that will zig-zag him across Europe. Irana Preveza stoically relates her seduction, Dimitrios' sordid dealings, a high life together that came crashing down when he turned paid assassin. Recalling his flight, footsteps ahead of police, clutching borrowed francs left unpaid, leaves her doubled over in bitter tears.

Leyden leaves for Sophia, sharing an overnight train cabin with a congenial obese Englishman traveling on. Later, he catches the man ransacking his hotel room. Calling himself "Peters", the intruder rants over betrayal by Dimitrios in a smuggling deal that sent him to prison. Suspicious of the report of his Istanbul death, Peters plans to blackmail him, now a respected Parisian banker, with the truth of his real identity. Offering a half share of a million French franc payoff, he seeks to inveigle Leyden in his scheme, but the Dutchman declines to become ensnared. Content to research his book, he follows a clue given him by Peters to Geneva.

There he meets the suave and aristocratic Wladislaw Grodek, a viper who had once hired Dimitrios to obtain some Yugoslavian military secrets. Dimitrios masterfully manipulated a meek minor government official into a gambling debt so great he handed over a strategic minefield chart to clear it. Caught, the mouse confessed and committed suicide; Dimitrios, playing both sides, double-crossed Grodek and sold the chart to a rival government.

Eventually, Peters sends Leyden to Paris, where he intends to spring his trap on Dimitrios. He does, and collects his million francs, but the pair is tracked by the Greek to a familiar lair. There Dimitrios coldly shoots Peters twice. Leyden, more angry than afraid, launches upon the assailant, sending his revolver flying. As they struggle Peters crawls to the gun, then holds Dimitrios at bay. He sends Leyden away, who hardly reaches the stairs before three shots are heard.

Police immediately arrive, and take the garrulous Peters into custody. Over his shoulder he bids farewell to Leyden, urging him to send on a copy of his book to him in prison.



The novel was published in 1939. The character Dimitrios Makropoulos in Ambler's book drew upon the early career of notorious munitions kingpin and "merchant of death"[2] Sir Basil Zaharoff,[3][4] whose life, wealth, and villiany were also portrayed in the titular character of the Orsen Welles mystery thriller Mr. Arkadin.[5]

The assassination attempt involving Dimitrios was based a 1923 plot against the agrarian reform prime minister of Bulgaria, Aleksandar Stamboliyski, who survived the February 2, 1923 shooting but was murdered by right-wing secret police on June 14 following a successful coup d' etat.[6][7]


Film rights were bought by Warner Bros. The screenplay was assigned to A.I. Bezzerides with Henry Blanke to produce and Nancy Coleman and Helmut Dantine to star.[8] Coleman did not like her role and Faye Emerson replaced her.[9] Dantine was assigned to another film and replaced by Zachary Scott who had just impressed on Broadway in Those Endearing Young Charms; it was his first film.[10]


Critical response[edit]

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a mixed review in June 1944: "In telling the picaresque story of a mystery writer on the trail of a Levantine bum whose career of crime in the Balkans has stimulated the writer's awe, the film wallows deeply in discourse and tediously trite flashbacks...To be sure, the Warner schemists have poured some scabby atmosphere into this film and have been very liberal with the scenery in picturing international haunts and Balkan dives...This sort of worldly melodrama calls for refinement in cinematic style, but the writing and direction of this picture betray a rather clumsy, conventional approach."[11]

An undated UK Channel 4 review asserts that "the film promises more action than it delivers, but there are opportunities for fine performances by Lorre and, especially, Greenstreet as the master crook. Atmospheric cinematography and an intriguing script turn this into a fine example of film noir with an immensely entertaining cast."[12][dead link]

TV Guide called the movie "One of the great film noir classics to come out of the 1940s, The Mask of Dimitrios boasts no superstars, just uniformly fine talents, a terrific script full of subtle intrigue and surprises, and Negulesco's exciting direction. It's an edge-of-the-seater all the way."[citation needed]


The Mask of Dimitrios was adapted as a radio play aired on the April 16, 1945, broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, with Greenstreet and Lorre reprising their roles.


  1. ^ Ambler, Eric (2011-10-19) [1939]. A Coffin for Dimitrios. Knopf Doubleday. ISBN 9780307949950.
  2. ^ Dash, Mike (16 February 2012). "The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on 19 July 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  3. ^ McCormick, Donald (1977-04-28). Who's Who in Spy Fiction. London: Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton. p. 24. ISBN 978-0241894477. When Donald McCormick was researching his biography of Sir Basil Zaharoff, Pedlar of Death, he was convinced that Eric Ambler must have based some of The Mask of Dimitrios on first-hand knowledge of Zaharoff's early career, when that super-arms-salesman was a brothel tout in Istanbul. But a letter from...
  4. ^ Steffin, James. "The Mask of Dimitrios". TCM (Film review). Retrieved 2016-07-26. The character of Dimitrios was inspired by the real-life figure of Sir Basil Zaharoff (1849–1936). Born in Turkey under the name of Basileios Zakharias and popularly known as 'Mystery Man of Europe,' Zaharoff was an international arms dealer, financier, intelligence agent and British knight. He was notorious for using doubles to cover for him and for refusing to allow himself to be photographed.
  5. ^ "Welles Amazed: The Lives of Mr. Arkadin", J. Hoberman, The Criterion Collection, 2006
  6. ^ "Mr. Ambler's Balkans – But what happened to the plot?". IMDb (Film review). 2004-08-28. Retrieved 2016-07-26. ... the assassination attempt involving Demetrios was an attempt on the life of Stambouliski, the agrarian radical Premier of Bulgaria who finally was assassinated in 1923.
  7. ^ "Alexander Stamboliyski Boulevard". In Your Pocket (From Sofia, Bulgaria, city guide). 2015-10-13. Retrieved 2016-07-26. Following an attempt on his life in 1923 by the Macedonian Revolutionary Party (IMRO), [Stambouliski] responded with fierce repressions against his political opponents.
  8. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Cedric Hardwicke and Thomas Mitchell to Appear in the Fox Special, 'Woodrow Wilson' NEW DISNEY FILM TODAY ' Victory Through Air Power,' Based on de Seversky Book, Will Open at the Globe". New York Times. July 17, 1943. p. 8.
  9. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Dec 10, 1943). "DRAMA AND FILM: Warners Give Disputed Role to Faye Emerson Dorothy Daye, Formerly Vicki Lester, Joins Laraine Day, Dolores Dey at Metro". Los Angeles Times. p. 10.
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Dec 2, 1943). "DRAMA AND FILM: Charles Coburn' Wins Col. Effingham Role Carol Stone of Broddway Stage Sought by Producer Bernerd for Screen Duty". Los Angeles Times. p. A8.
  11. ^ Crowther, Bosley (1944-06-24). "THE SCREEN; The Mask of Dimitrios". The New York Times (Film review). Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  12. ^ "Mask of Dimitrios, The". Channel 4 (Film review). Retrieved 2016-07-25.

External links[edit]