Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #14: Warner Bros. Noir (Scene from The Mask of Dimitrios)

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Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet play so well off one another, it's no surprise that they were continually put together. Greenstreet is impressive in his own right. When I first saw The Maltese Falcon, I thought he was excellent. Later, watching the special features, I was amazed to discover that was his theatrical film debut. What's most impressive is that due to his physical size, he is well aware that his mere presence is imposing enough, and that gives his words and speech great menace, without  the need to ever shout or over-project. In this scene, the gun he is holding is almost secondary, a mere prop that is hardly needed. He holds it almost casually at his side, and then later, when sitting, he allows it to drop, not really needing this lowly tool to emphasize his domination over Lorre.

 

Lorre enters, almost carefree, but immediately jumps from confusion to a bundle of nervous energy when confronted by Greenstreet. Whenever I think of Lorre, I just think of this awkward, nervous man, even in roles that should command fear, such as the child killer in M. He plays that role to perfection, much as Greenstreet does with his menacing civility. Greenstreet just strolls in from the back of the frame, until he slowly encompasses the entire screen. As stated before, due to his physical presence, even just sitting down and chatting, he maintains an imposing air, as he continues to tower over Lorre who also sits, but at a lower level. As he calmly interrogates the nervous Lorre, the camera moves in slowly from a low angle until Greenstreet is towering over the entire audience like Godzilla about to destroy a city. Part of the magic is lost on a computer screen, but sitting in a theater in the 1940s, the audience looking up towards this larger than life itself man, I could just imagine people squirming uncomfortably in their seats, unsure what will happen next. The scene ends on a odd note, as once Greenstreet begins to ask about Colonel Haki, Lorre relaxes and leans back in an almost superior air, as he regains some power over this imposing intruder.

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Peter Lorre's character in this seems a great deal more self assured, less jittery than he was in the maltese falcon. His entrance is stilted by the arrival of the gunman, who he knows by only slightly, as the man in question was a fellow traveler. You can definitely see that the two actors are quite accustomed to working together and seem to fall into a very natural rhythm once the two of them are on screen. 

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I have not seen this entire film, so I am not familiar with the plot or story arc. But as far as the entrances of these two actors go:

 

In most of Peter Lorre's performances (I've seen Maltese Falcon, M, Arsenic and Old Lace, among others), he always - to me, at least - gives off the vibe of a vulnerable, insecure, sometimes deranged character. His entrance in this clip, as he swings his hat and enters his room, is understated. Once he realizes that his room has been "vandalized," his dialogue ("That's funny" - "What is the meaning of all this?" - "Are you mad?...I can only humor you and hope for the best") is on the surface is strangely calm and somewhat forced. But as is so often the case with Lorre, there is a sinister and secretive quality to his delivery.

 

As for Sydney Greenstreet, my favorite moment of the clip - even more than his menacingly slow entrance with a pistol aimed at Lorre - is the zoom in to a low angle close up as he asks: "What is your game?" Looking up at this man as he wields the upper hand literally with his gun and vocally with his assured dialogue delivery gives the sense that he is dominant, foreboding, that Lorre is in trouble if he does not think on his feet.

 

For the record, I love the typically "witty" and noir-ish line of Greenstreet as he tells Lorre to shut the door: "I think if you stretch out your left hand, you can do it without moving your feet." Classic!

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I couldn't help but think of your prototypical Western standoff when viewing this clip. Staging helps a play a part in that feeling. Peter Lorre's character enters the room from the front of the frame and is soon confronted by Sidney Greenstreet's character who enters from the back of the frame. Greenstreet is holding a gun and forces a standoff with Lorre. Lorre is obviously outmatched as Greenstreet is carrying a gun. Lorre is forced to use his words as his only defense. I think this might be the first clip we've seen where one character has had to use dialogue to get out of a potentially deadly encounter. You can also get a sense of the two characters in this scene. One prefers to let the gun do the talking while the other lets his talking do the talking.

I couldn't help but think of your prototypical Western standoff when viewing this clip. Staging helps a play a part in that feeling.

 

I got that feeling too, and I keep returning to the scene when he enters the room, Greenstreet not only has the gun in his right hand, but the object in his left hand and the way he holds it resembles another gun--like he needs more power.

 

When Lorre decides the intruder is not much of a threat, he sits, and Greenstreet immediately drops his weapon; the secret to camaraderie is the shortcuts friends take, in speech, action and body language; Greenstreet and Lorre play it well.

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As we enter this scene I see several parallels to Maltese Falcon.  First we have the large room where our characters will eventually go through their dialogue.  Then we have our two obviously unsavory characters in search of a treasure, this time on opposing sides.  Lorre's character looks haggard as he enters the apartment and finds it ransacked.  As he is surveying the damage, out of the dark room walks Greenstreet, pistol in hand to both shock and confront Lorre's character.  The dialogue between them is priceless.  Greenstreet is certainly the master of "prose" and doesn't disappoint in this scene.

 

The cat and mouse exchange begins immediately.  Lorre sizes up Greenstreet while figuring out a way to get out of his current "pickle" while Greenstreet takes his usual comfortable position of authority in the nearest throne-like chair.  The shot that sticks out to me is that up shot of Greenstreet which makes him look so powerful and threatening, such a familiar character for him.  He means business and he wants answers however he intends to get them in style. Lorre meanwhile continues to play his game and eventually admits that he does indeed have knowledge of Dimitrios as he takes on his true character in this movie, a wily and crafty little weasel.....he always does it so well.

 

I love this exchange and as our professor points out it is a common occurrence when these two get together on film.  They exchange their little quips as naturally as if they were having a true exchange, not in movies.  It is rare to see two actors interact so naturally with no indication that they ever had to rehearse this scene.  MGM certainly did make use of their stars for this scene.  I have to think that the way movies were done i.e. the ownership of actors, lots and every tier right down to the movie houses, provided the necessary elements to create such a natural flowing dialogue between two gifted actors.  The fact that they worked together in 8 movies under this contract in the same story line over and over makes it quite believable that not only did they work well together, but because they were under contract to MGM, they were very used to working together.

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The Mask of Dimitrios opens with Lorre exiting the elevator and talking to himself. The camera follows Lorre at an obtuse angle as; if the viewer is an active participant in the scene.Lorre's entrance is non-threatening and casual. Greenstreet is threatening and almost a menacing character. His entrance is a little more dramatic. The gun enters the scene and then he follows out of the shadows. The use of key lighting allows the characters to express their emotions without the over emphasis of facial expressions to deliver their action.

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Peter Lorré makes a very casual entrance as he moves out of the elevator in his very nice apartment building, not like many "noir" urban settings.  He is relaxed and talking to himself until he enters his room and immediately surveys the disarray.  He is at first surprised then begins to become upset and argumentative in terms of getting information rather than giving it!  Sydney Greenstreet uses his size to great advantage as he did in "The Maltese Falcon" to look threatening but as the conversation progresses, he chooses to make himself more comfortable and try a more conciliatory approach.  He seems to have an interest in a person this time (Dimitrios) and not an object of value (at this point, anyway).

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The entrance of Peter Lorre is through a regular sized door.  Sydney Greenstreet came through a large open archway.  This added to his size.  The camera movement focused on him as he sat down.  He was in control holding the gun.  Lorre was standing above him with his back to the camera.  The lighting was on Greenstreet.  Than the camera moved in closely toward his face.  As it got closer, Greenstreet seemed filled up the screen, his body's volume emphasized.  Lorre casually laid down on the sofa showing he was not alarmed at Greenstreet.

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-Each entrance for the characters are different because the character that Peter Lorre plays is entering a room not expecting the room to be disheveled.  Whereas the character that Sidney Green Street plays enters the room holding a weapon on the character who initially the room belongs to and that is the character of Peter Lorre. The scene changes because instead of feeling threatened by one another, the characters are more relaxed as the scene progresses.

 

- In terms of the camera angles, when can see how each of the characters face one another. The camera is placed behind each character. From my perspective the lighting is not as dark as other film noir films.

 

- The similarities to the other films are that a character is faced with a ominous situation which begins with a verbal confrontation and results with a relaxed situation.

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It has been indeed interesting to see both Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in another movie other than The Maltese Falcon.  I wonder if Sydney Greenstreet only had to be himself in most of his movies.  He seems to be either very serious as he is here or somewhat jovial as he played the "fat man".  He was even more so in the light comedy Christmas in Connecticut.  He just seems to be an actor who is very comfortable in his own skin.  Peter Lorre in this film is more relaxed even though certainly portraying concern as he views his disheveled room than he ever was in The Maltese Falcon.  Both characters convincingly portray irritation, but Joel Cairo always seems to have very elevated blood pressure. 

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This movie was a pure pleasure to watch. Lorre and Greenstreet are perfect together and their acting is brilliant. Lorre's entrance is rather peaceful, while entering the room, Leyden is still stunned with the story of Dimitrios' wickedness, he is also tired and wants to go straight to bed. And what he sees inside? A terrible mess! And out of the shadows appears him, the guy from the train! Mr. Peters holds a gun and is obviously surprised with Leyden's presence. Now he is improvising – he wants to know how much Leyden knows about Dimitrios. Leyden is not affraid of nor Peters nor his gun, he is too tired and irritated. Their conversation is snappy and witty, in style similar to the one in „The Maltese Falcon”. Maybe it's because of the actors. It looked like two normal guys found themselves in an inconvenient situation and try to get out of it without any harm. Peters respects Leyden and does not want to hurt him. Leyden whines a bit about the mess and the intrusion itself (Lorre's great at whining roles ;)) and is really surprised with the whole situation. He is not scared, while the conversation continued he sat on the bed and then even lied, having a cigarette and being totally relaxed.

What is specific for noir style here? Low, wide-angle close-ups of Sidney Greenstreet holding a gun, just to make him scarier.  

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I love Peter Lorre.  I wish he had been utilized more in a leading part.  Lorre is coming home to his apartment or hotel room and is surprised by Greenstreet, who happens to have a gun.  The each surprised one another as Greenstreet states when Lorre comes in.  He intended to make the room look like no one had been there and leave.  They each are looking into the person of Dimitrios.  A give and take of information and wanting to know why the other is searching for this Dimitrios.  They are both searching for answers and assume others have the truth and won't tell.  I'm not sure about Nobody Lives Forever.  I have not seen that film.  I have seen The Maltese Falcon.  In that film, Lorre and Greenstreet are on the same side.  Lorre's character is working for Greenstreet.  In this one they are both after this Dimitrios or all information they can find. 

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The first entrance puts a high-key lighting on the main character. He is on a reflection pace, walking in the house. Besides the art direction and the sinister music, there's more or less a common entrance. On the other hand, the second entrance starts on the shadows. When Greenstreet enters pointing a gun among a fully messed room there's a high tension moment in here. And the director's choices just put these two man deeper on their initial 'paintings'. As Greenstreet continues to talk, camera moves towards his big body on a low-angle shot that makes him really frightening. In contrast, Lorre lays down just like a dog afraid to go to the bath. Even when Greenstreet is seated he looks much more a threat than Lorre.

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Watched this again last night, just for fun. Noticed that the flustered Bulic, when offered a handshake by the (fake) diplomat, realized he was wearing gloves and takes one off - but from his left hand! He shook hands with the gloved right hand! Absolutely cracked me up - what a subtle gesture, but added so much to the whole picture of a guy who was feeling so nervous and out of place.

 

Also really enjoyed the performance of Zachary Scott even more, now knowing the backstory of his character and what was to come.

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Peter Lorre's character seems to be relaxed walking with his hat off into the room.  Greenstreet seems to be more put together.  His hat is still on his head.  He is also self assured because he is holding the gun.  One thing that I noticed was the shots from below Greenstreet, It gives us the feeling that he is the one in control with all the power.  We as an audience, look up to him.  When the camera goes back to Lorre, we see him at our eye level, to show he is not in power, but is still very relaxed.  He even smokes while semi reclining on the bed or chair.  Lorre is very much on the defensive but doesn't show it.  Both men are excellent! 

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Entrances:  Lorre strolls out the elevator playing with his hat and talking to himself. He moves to the door, finds his keys, fits a key to the lock.   CUT to other side of door.  Lorre’s second entrance: he’s stopped in his tracks.  Greenstreet is already in situ, master of the place.  He appears in a doorframe at the other end of the room blocking out Lorre’s reflection in the bathroom mirror behind him and continues toward Lorre at a steady pace, pistol held lightly  (with serious intent?).

 

Lighting:   The lighting is motivated by set prop lighting fixtures to the side and somewhat behind each actor.  Lorre also has an additional bit of back light motivated by a lamp reflected in a mirror behind him. In deep focus over-the-shoulder shots the “practical” lights behind the actors make them stand out in greater relief.  The grayscale is beautifully manipulated.  Did I read somewhere that the cinematography here is a study in black and silver?

 

Set ups:  The blocking and camera work bring Lorre and Greenstreet closer gradually.  One move, where Lorre takes a few steps toward Greenstreet, and not until he is still does the camera, behind him at shoulder level, follow, then stop. It made me feel like Lorre was being trapped into moving closer to the center of a web, that the camera might have a gun.  Greenstreet is growing inexorably larger.  In one shot, from behind Greenstreet’s shoulder, Lorre looks child size.  In the reverse shot  Greenstreet takes up more than half the frame, leaving Lorre scrunched up in what’s left of the space. The camera drops lower in stages and is finally at Greenstreet’s feet. The camera moves up his body until only his head is in the shot.  He says threatening things to Lorre and narrows his eyes..  I’m chuckling because I know that Lorre won’t be frightened by it and, indeed, he isn’t.  The threat is toothless. I hope Negulesco intended to amuse.

 

Acting:    One last thing:  these masters are giving a lesson in relaxation for actors.  They work in such complete release that they can play off each other with lightness and finesse and with no apparent effort, both vocally and physically.  Hey, watch and learn!

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Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet play so well off one another, it's no surprise that they were continually put together. Greenstreet is impressive in his own right. When I first saw The Maltese Falcon, I thought he was excellent. Later, watching the special features, I was amazed to discover that was his theatrical film debut. What's most impressive is that due to his physical size, he is well aware that his mere presence is imposing enough, and that gives his words and speech great menace, without  the need to ever shout or over-project. In this scene, the gun he is holding is almost secondary, a mere prop that is hardly needed. He holds it almost casually at his side, and then later, when sitting, he allows it to drop, not really needing this lowly tool to emphasize his domination over Lorre.

 

Lorre enters, almost carefree, but immediately jumps from confusion to a bundle of nervous energy when confronted by Greenstreet. Whenever I think of Lorre, I just think of this awkward, nervous man, even in roles that should command fear, such as the child killer in M. He plays that role to perfection, much as Greenstreet does with his menacing civility. Greenstreet just strolls in from the back of the frame, until he slowly encompasses the entire screen. As stated before, due to his physical presence, even just sitting down and chatting, he maintains an imposing air, as he continues to tower over Lorre who also sits, but at a lower level. As he calmly interrogates the nervous Lorre, the camera moves in slowly from a low angle until Greenstreet is towering over the entire audience like Godzilla about to destroy a city. Part of the magic is lost on a computer screen, but sitting in a theater in the 1940s, the audience looking up towards this larger than life itself man, I could just imagine people squirming uncomfortably in their seats, unsure what will happen next. The scene ends on a odd note, as once Greenstreet begins to ask about Colonel Haki, Lorre relaxes and leans back in an almost superior air, as he regains some power over this imposing intruder.

"Menacing civility" is just right!  Thanks.

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The first time I saw this movie I was blown away. It had all of the visual earmarks of a noir in the lighting, camera angles, and tense scenes. And yet there was Lorre, this comical and reluctant hero who really just wants to write his book then get on with his life. And yet he is thrust into the world of shadows and all he can do is by annoyed by the number of people pointing guns at him.

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Peter Lorre's entrance is calm and comparatively normal. He steps out of the elevator, talking to himself, and enters his room. The soundtrack tenses up, so we know something is about to happen. Sure enough, the room has been ransacked, and Sydney Greenstreet walks out and holds Lorre at gunpoint. They begin a conversation regarding what their "games" are regarding this mysterious mask. Lorre also retains his understated and very funny delivery of his lines in the moment when he says that he can concluding that Greenstreet is either a thief or a drunk, before leaning towards Greenstreet and asking softly, "Are you drunk?"

 

From what I gather from this scene, Lorre and Greenstreet retain their personalities from "The Maltese Falcon". Lorre seems twitchy and nervous, while Greenstreet is calm, well spoken and extremely polite. What's more, they both seem to be looking for this mask of Dimitrios, although they seem to be trying to find it before the other one does, rather than looking for it together as the had done with the falcon. 

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The difference between the two entrances is that Lorre exists the elevator into the hallway walking into a moving back tracking angular shot; as he provides us with thoughts (unimportant to this scene) with his dialogue except to give us a glimpse of his personality;as he unlocks the door,a low angular 3/4 shot from the camera allows us to not only see a bit more of his face but a reflection of his shadow upon the door as well. We now know that this person is sneaky and is not to be trusted. Greenstreet,however enters from within the room from the bathroom; coming out of darkness into the light to the camera's long wide angle shot, to a short back tracking shot. We are able to see where he is coming from as well as view Greenstreeet and Lorre's images in the bathroom mirror. The audience now knows they're both unsavory characters brought together by fate.

 

As the two continue to interact,we see a bit of a power play in a cat-and-mouse game of trying to get information from one another. They begin to let down their guards somewhat as they realize they are both seeking to find the same person.First, Greenstreet sits down (still holding the gun)saying that he "wishes" him (Lorre) "no ill-will," giving Lorre the upper hand. Lorre wittingly comments that he "must be mad" while reaching for the phone,Greenstreet raises the gun to stop him (taking back control). Lorre stops then raises his hands as if he is under arrest. A back shot of Lorre keeps the audience wondering what he is hiding.Greenstreet mentions 'Dimitrios' name and Lorre sits down equaling off the power play. Although seated, a low angle shot of Greenstreet makes him look commanding as he tells Lorre to stop the game play. They continue the discussion about Dimitrios; an over the shoulder shot behind Greenstreet shows Lorre laying in a horizontal position upon the bed smoking a cigarette. Which suggests that Lorre now has the upper hand because he knows more than he is telling.

 

In this scene Lorre and Greenstreet are constantly fighting for the upper hand. In the Maltese Falcon they utilize and assert their strengths when the opportunity arises to maintain control over the opposition as they work together in search of the statue.

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The camera is located on the right side of the door, capturing an unsuspecting Lorre entering at a medium shot profile. When Lorre faces toward his room and says “that’s funny,” the camera pans to survey the reason for the reaction. Given Lorre’s surprise at the topsy turvy condition of the room, we can assume the mess is not his doing. Particularly, since out comes a large shadowed figure at the frame of an already open door, located at the corner of a long shot, filled with cluttered, diagonally placed objects. A sole lamp, placed at eye level on the opposite side of the figure, is the only source of light and the only item at a straight line toward the camera.

 

The light immediately reveals the figure to be self-assured, smiling Sydney Greenstreet when he enters the room. The 2 actors are facing each other from jagged angles, so that Lorre continues to have his back facing the camera (as from the beginning) while we are able to see Greenstreet’s entire profile facing us. There is only enough space between them in the shot to emphasize the upright lamp.

 

After about a minute, the shot is reflected so that it Lorre facing the audience and Greenstreet with his back turned. This time, there is a mirror, facing directly toward the camera, but hidden behind a random door frame placed in the middle of the room. Greenstreet sits down to reveal another strange aspect of the room- what appears to a bright firey ball, on the far right of the room, and round gel-like objects coming out of it. They appear painted on the wall, but serving as the bright spot lighting up the shot.

 

Anyway, in the middle of the scene, when Lorre becomes comfortable enough with Greenstreet to ask if he is drunk, he turns toward the camera- the first time in the scene when both actors are facing the camera. This is short-lived, however, since Greenstreet brandishes his gun and gets back to business- propelling Lorre’s back to the camera. This time, the two shot of the actors is upright, directly facing the camera rather than a jagged, diagonal angles; an appropriate change since Greenstreet finally gives some clarification by saying he will dispense the pretense of “disinterested friendship” and insists they “be frank with one another.”

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