Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Ingenuity is never a substitute for intelligence"

John Nolte reviews an old movie (1940) that he has just seen — and that I recently ordered — starring two great Hollywood character actors (Nolte once again demonstrates his really good taste). The film is based on a book by Eric Ambler, originally titled A Coffin for Dimitrios — a perfect candidate for film noir treatment. Nolte:
One of the great unheralded screen duos of Hollywood's Golden Era was Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, two character actors who made a total of nine films together between 1941 and 1946. The most famous of these pairings are the first two, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), in which both men played memorable supporting roles.

Eventually, though, Warner Bros. would elevate them to starring roles in a few films, including The Mask of Dimitrios, ....

In his screen debut, the underrated and very versatile Zachary Scott...plays the title character, a cad and degenerate con man named Dimitrios Makropoulos, who washes up dead on a beach in Istanbul. A Turkish policeman convinces Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre), a Dutch mystery novelist, to dig into the life of the deceased, promising that what he finds will fuel a great book.

Intrigued, Leyden travels all over Europe tracking down and interviewing the many sordid associates and lovers of Dimitrios, all of whom remain bitter by his betrayals.

The most intriguing character, however, is Mr. Peters (Greenstreet) an amiable, dishonest, and sometime dangerous criminal who seems as interested in Cornelius as Cornelius is in Dimitrios.

What the story lacks in plot it more than makes up for in atmosphere and chemistry. The scenes and developing relationship between Lorre and Greenstreet are brilliantly written, playfully acted, and disarmingly charming. The movie comes together perfectly once the slippery but likable Peters convinces the bemused but wary Cornelius to team up with him....
Another great Ambler book filmed about the same time, with at least one of the same chracters, was Journey into Fear starring Joseph Cotton. This film has also been unavailable on DVD and deserves to once again become available.