The Mask of Dimitrios

The Mask of Dimitrios is a 1944 American film noir directed by Jean Negulesco and written by Frank Gruber, based on the 1939 novel of the same name written by Eric Ambler (in the United States, it was published as A Coffin for Dimitrios).[1]

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

The film features Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott (as Dimitrios Makropoulos), Faye Emerson and Peter Lorre. This was the first film for Scott after signing a contract with Warner Bros. Pictures.


In 1938, Dutch mystery writer Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre) is visiting Istanbul. A fan of his, Colonel Haki (Kurt Katch) of the Turkish police, believes Leyden would be interested in the story of Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott), whose body was just washed up on the beach. Leyden is so fascinated by what Haki tells of the dead criminal that he becomes determined to learn more.

He seeks out Dimitrios' associates all over Europe, none of whom has a kind word for the deceased. They reveal more of the man's sordid life. His ex-lover, Irana Preveza (Faye Emerson), tells of his failed assassination attempt. Afterwards, he borrowed money from her and never returned.

On his travels, Leyden meets Mr. Peters (Sydney Greenstreet). Later, he catches Peters ransacking his hotel room. Peters reveals that he too had dealings with Dimitrios (he had done prison time when Dimitrios betrayed their smuggling ring to the police), and he is not convinced that the man is really dead. If he is alive, Peters plans to blackmail him for keeping his secret. He generously offers Leyden a share, but the Dutchman is interested only in learning the truth.

Wladislaw Grodek (Victor Francen) is the next link in the trail. He had hired Dimitrios to obtain some state secrets. Dimitrios manipulated Karel Bulic (Steven Geray), a meek, minor Yugoslav government official, into gambling and losing a huge sum, so he could be pressured into stealing charts of some minefields. Bulic later confessed to the authorities and committed suicide. Meanwhile, Dimitrios double-crossed Grodek, selling the charts himself to the Italian government.

Eventually, the two men track Dimitrios down in Paris. Fearful of being exposed to the authorities, he pays Peters one million francs for his silence but, true to his nature, goes to Peters' home shortly thereafter and shoots him. Leyden, his rage over Peters being shot overcoming his fear, grapples with Dimitrios, allowing the wounded Peters to grab the gun. Peters sends Leyden away to spare him from witnessing the violence to come; then shots are heard. When the police show up, Peters admits to shooting Dimitrios and does not resist arrest, satisfied with what he has accomplished. As he is taken away, he asks that Leyden write a book about the affair, and to kindly send him a copy.



The novel was published in 1939. 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.[2] Coleman did not like her role and Faye Emerson replaced her.[3] 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.[4]


Critical response

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."[5]

A 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."[6]

TV Guide calls 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."[7]


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.

Historical inspirations

The character Dimitrios Makropoulos in Ambler's book is based somewhat on the early career of munitions kingpin Sir Basil Zaharoff.[8][9]

The assassination attempt involving Dimitrios was based on an attempted assassination of Aleksandar Stamboliyski, the prime minister of Bulgaria.[10][11] The failed assassination attempt took place on February 2, 1923; Stamboliyski survived it but was murdered on June 14 of that same year.

Differences from novel

The film remains relatively faithful to the original novel. Major differences are in the relationship between the novelist and Mr. Peters, which is rather closer than in the novel. When Mr. Leyden attacks Dimitrios at the end, it appears to be partially in outrage at what Dimitrios has done to a person who has almost become a friend. Second, in the novel, Mr. Peters is fatally wounded by Dimitrios, but kills the latter before dying. In the film, Mr. Peters emerges, wounded but alive. He is seen being hustled out the door by the police, having urged the detective story writer to write a book about the case and saying he will have time to read it. Mr. Leyden says to him: "Goodbye, Mr. Petersau revoir. Sorry you won't be going to the Indies now," ambiguously saying that Peters is or is not likely to recover. Mr. Peters says, "You see? There's not enough kindness in the world." "There's not enough kindness in the world," had been Peters' tagline or slogan throughout the movie.


  1. Ambler, Eric (2011-10-19) [1939]. A Coffin for Dimitrios. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307949950.
  2. 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 Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 July 1943: 8.
  3. DRAMA AND FILM: Warners Give Disputed Role to Faye Emerson Dorothy Daye, Formerly Vicki Lester, Joins Laraine Day, Dolores Dey at Metro Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 10 Dec 1943: 10.
  4. DRAMA AND FILM: Charles Coburn' Wins Col. Effingham Role Carol Stone of Broddway Stage Sought by Producer Bernerd for Screen Duty Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 02 Dec 1943: A8
  5. Crowther, Bosley (1944-06-24). "THE SCREEN; The Mask of Dimitrios". The New York Times (Film review). Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  6. "Mask of Dimitrios, The". Channel 4 (Film review). Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  7. TV Guide film review
  8. McCormick, Donald (1977-04-28). Who's Who in Spy Fiction. London: Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd. 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...
  9. 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.
  10. "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.
  11. "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.
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