The Mask of Dimitrios

“I’ve never seen a dead man,” says, oddly enough, Peter Lorre, in Jean Negulesco’s border-hopping 1944 crime thriller. Lorre reins it in to play a detective novelist, an innocent abroad whose curiosity lands him on the trail of international man of mystery Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott in his movie debut). The scoundrel is presumed dead, but his legend gives rise to multiple flashbacks’ worth of urbane swindles across Old Europe. Romanian-born ex-painter Negulesco aims for sophistication with Hitchcockian banter between rivals—Lorre and perennially suspicious Sydney Greenstreet—and a crafty Wellesian figure of hearsay in Dimitrios. Adapted from a book by spy novelist Eric Ambler, the film was supposedly suggested by John Huston because Negulesco had been passed over for The Maltese Falcon. In every other scene, Negulesco’s eager camera alights on a fireplace or a roulette wheel for a snappy cross-fade, but another visual motif speaks loudest: wads of cash, in giant bills.