The Face Behind the Mask (1941 film)

The Face Behind the Mask is a 1941 American noir crime film released by Columbia Pictures. It stars Peter Lorre and Evelyn Keyes and was directed by Robert Florey. The screenplay was adapted by Paul Jarrico, Arthur Levinson, and Allen Vincent from the play Interim, written by Thomas Edward O'Connell.

The Face Behind the Mask
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Florey
Produced byIrving Briskin
Wallace MacDonald
Written byArthur Levinson
Screenplay byPaul Jarrico
Allen Vincent
Based onInterim
radio play
by Thomas Edward O'Connell
StarringPeter Lorre
Evelyn Keyes
Don Beddoe
Music bySidney Cutner
CinematographyFranz Planer
Edited byCharles Nelson
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
January 16, 1941 (1941-01-16)
Running time
69 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film is the story of a hopeful new Hungarian immigrant, Janos Szabo (Peter Lorre), who, on his first day in New York City, is trapped in a hotel fire that leaves his face hideously scarred. Refused employment due to his appearance although he possesses tremendous skill as a watchmaker, the only way he can survive is by turning to theft, using his skilled hands to disable alarms. Eventually he becomes the leader of a gang of thieves, and raises enough money to commission and wear a realistic latex mask of his own face.

Janos then falls in love with Helen (Evelyn Keyes) a blind woman who sees only the good in him, and attempts to leave his life of crime behind him. Unfortunately, his gang come to believe that he has betrayed them to the police, and attempt to kill him by car bomb, an attempt on his life that he survives but which kills Helen. In retaliation, Janos disguises himself as the pilot of the private plane the gang is flying out of the city with, which he lands in the Arizona desert and lets out the fuel, suicidally stranding both the gang and himself without food or water, dooming them all to a slow death. At the film's end, Janos's body and that of his enemies are discovered by the police.



The Face Behind the Mask was directed by French-American director Robert Florey,[1] and written by Paul Jarrico, and Allen Vincent.[2] The film itself is based on the radio play The Interim by Thomas Edward O'Connell.[3] Florey had previously made contributions to Universal Studios' 1931 film Frankenstein before James Whale was brought on as director, and had directed Murders in the Rue Morgue.[1][4][5] The film's script was specifically written with Peter Lorre in mind for the film's lead role,[6] with parallels to Lorre's own life,[7] as co-writer Jarrico recalled, "The script was 'tailored', as I recall, in a sense Lorre had already been cast."[6] Lorre was later cast in the film's lead role of Janos "Johnny" Szabo, as the first of a two-picture deal that he was contracted to make for Columbia Pictures.[3] Evelyn Keyes, who had previously starred in Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind, was cast as Janos' love interest Helen Williams.[8] Actors Don Beddoe, George E. Stone, John Tyrrell, and Cy Schindell were cast in secondary roles for the film. Tyrell and Schindell were both regulars at Columbia Pictures and were well known for starring in the studio's Three Stooges short films.[9]

Principal photography began on November 6, 1940, with filming lasting for a period of 20 days.[10]


Theatrical release

The Face Behind the Mask had its official premiere on January 16, 1941.[10]


The Face Behind the Mask was poorly received during its initial release. In their 1941 review of the film, The New York Times was critical of the film; writing, "Despite a certain pretentiousness toward things psychological, The Face Behind the Mask, may safely be set down as just another bald melodramatic exercise in which the talents of Peter Lorre again are stymied by hackneyed dialogue and conventional plot manipulations."[11]

Contemporary reviews of the film have been more positive. Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film three out of a possible four stars, calling the film "Extremely well done on slim budget".[12] Dave Sindelar, on his website Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings gave the film a mostly positive review. Sindelar noted in his review that, although the film had its flaws, Lorre's strong performance, involving story, and haunting final scenes manages to overcome its deficiencies.[13] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave the film a "B+" on an A+ to F scale, calling it "a horror story in that it offers a vision of the American Dream turning ugly and wrong."[14] TV Guiderated the film two out of four stars, calling it "A stylish film about human suffering".[15]



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