Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet team up once again in “The Mask of Dimitrios,” released in 1944 by Warner Brothers and directed by Jean Negulesco. Lorre plays a Dutch detective story writer named Cornelius Leyden who becomes obsessed with a Greek criminal named Dimitrios. Dimitrios washes up dead at the beginning of the movie on a beach in Istanbul. When the local police chief gives details of Dimitrios’ infamous career, Leyden travels around Europe to research the dead man’s history, for curiosity and a possible book project.
The film, which tells the Demitrios story in flashback, makes no mention of World War 2, hence Leyden’s ability to travel easily to Sophia, Belgrade, Vienna and other dangerous places. Leyden starts out alone but soon Greenstreet arrives and tails him during his journey. While Leyden searches for the truth, Greenstreet’s character, Mr. Peters, plots revenge against Demitrios, confounding and confusing Leyden the entire way.
I suppose the appeal of pairing Greenstreet and Lorre lies in their apparent harmlessness. Greenstreet hardly moves at all, and when Lorre finally mixes it up violently with the villain, he’s obviously overmatched. But taking them for granted proves to be the villain’s undoing. Zachary Scott plays the menacing and way over-confident Dimitrios, who does Warner Brothers proud as a gangster without a conscience.