MOVIE REVIEWS

Face Behind the Mask

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6/10 NR

January 16, 1941

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By John Chard January 28, 2017

The face behind the mask, it's mutated, hideous, a horrible nightmare. Out of which I can never awake.

The Face Behind The Mask is directed by Robert Florey and collectively written by Paul Jarrico, Arthur Levinson and Allen Vincent. It stars Peter Lorre, Evelyn Keyes, Don Beddoe and George E. Stone. Music is by Sidney Cutner and cinematography by Franz Planer.

Hungarian immigrant Janos Szaby (Lorre) arrives in New York City full of hope for the future. Unfortunately he is trapped in a hotel fire which leaves his face severely disfigured. Even though he is a skilled craftsman he is refused employment by many on account of his looks. At his lowest ebb he turns to crime to fund the making of a face mask to hide his disfigurement, while soon enough he is running a little league crime outfit when he happens upon blind Helen Williams (Keyes) and finds a new meaning to life…

The sands of time plays the death rattle.

Lorre dismissed it as a bit of guff, but The Face Behind The Mask showcases one of his greatest performances. It's a film that beats a black heart, where fatalism is dripped over proceedings, the core of the narrative is the shattering of the American dream, and the makers here are not shy to put forward an uncaring society. After a breezy beginning the narrative becomes relentlessly bleak, right up to, and including, a no holds barred chilling finale that's preceded by a monstrous twist.

Florey (also doing some of his best work) and Planer add stark imagery and scene setting that belies the B budget and quick turnover of the production (less than two weeks). A bleak harbour sequence is tonally adroit, the face mask surgery with faces adorning the walls is deliciously macabre, there's torture, too, and oblique backgrounds and shadow play. The dialogue may sometimes be too weak for the haunting story, but the film rises above it because of skills of the cast (Stone and Keyes excellent support for Lorre) and makers alike.

Part noir, part horror and part social drama, it's a film of differing attributes. It's not one for anyone looking to be cheered up, but for those who like to lurk in the shadows and succumb to the dark underbelly of cinema; this is a treat. 8/10

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