The Face Behind the Mask

07/21/2021 06:39

Film: The Face Behind the Mask

Year: 1941

Director: Robert Florey

Writer: Paul Jarrico

Starring: Peter Lorre, Evelyn Keyes and Don Beddoe



This is another of those movies that I found thanks to Letterboxd for horror releases in 1941. It took a little looking on my part to find this one, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Peter Lorre starring in this movie. I did read the synopsis, but came in blind aside from that. The synopsis is a disfigured watchmaker with a grudge against society embarks on a life of crime.

We start this movie on a ship coming to America. It is coming into New York City and on it is Janos Szabo (Lorre). He talks to the captain and we can see how excited Janos is. He has everything planned out to ensure he succeeds. Being in this large city has him a bit nervous though. He wants to get a juice, but panics when he opens his wallet and his money is missing. This causes him to seek out Lt. James O’Hara (Don Beddoe). Jim talks to Janos and they discover he just misplaced it. Through a conversation, Jim realizes he needs a place to stay so he sends him to Excelsior Hotel. He also gives him his card if he ever needs anything.

Janos’ fortunes look up when he’s checking in. Terry Finnegan (George McKay) runs the place and he has a lot of vacancies. The cook of the café located in the hotel needs a dishwasher, which Janos accepts the position. There are only two rules to stay there, with one of them being not to cook in your room. Another resident doesn’t follow this. In an attempt to hide this from Terry, he puts the burner into a drawer and it causes a fire. Janos isn’t able to escape and is trapped.

He wakes up in the hospital. After a few surgeries and needing to wear bandages, they are finally removed. A nurse gasps at what he looks like. This agitates Janos and when he gets up to look at himself in the mirror, this sends him into a rage. He attacks the doctor.

This is only the start of his troubles. He cannot find work. Every time he inquires, they look at his face and turn him away. This leads him to meet Dinky (George E. Stone). Janos scares off a guy who drops his wallet. Dinky picks it up and splits the money with him. Janos doesn’t want to steal, but it is really his only option. This leads Janos to being called Johnny. He meets the rest of Dinky’s crew of Watts (John Tyrrell), Benson (Cy Schindell) and Harry (Stanley Brown). They start to pull of some big jobs.

That is until Jeff Jeffries (James Seay) gets out of prison. He wants to be back in charge, but Johnny isn’t a pushover. He has made enough money for a mask, but he needs more for a surgery to fully fix his face. He does have a change of heart when he meets Helen Williams (Evelyn Keyes), a nice and beautiful blind woman. He wants to get out of the game, but Jeff has other plans.

I think that is where I’ll leave my recap for the movie as it doesn’t have the most complex of stories. This is based off a radio play which I did find to be interesting. It isn’t uncommon for the era to base off source material as we are still in early cinema where you didn’t have a lot of original works for film yet, but you also have a built-in audience which we still see.

What I like about this is we have an interesting character to follow here with Janos. He has the American dream and is ready to come here to make a living. He has the love of his life back home who he wants to pay her way to join him. He believes in doing the right thing in the beginning. It isn’t until someone else breaks the rules that make him a tragic figure. This was something I found to be quite interesting. Even after he gets money from a robbery, he still wants to do the right thing. It is Dinky that pushes him into crime and I mean, all the men he applies for jobs who deny him. He isn’t being denied for his skills, but his look. It is an interesting social commentary of discrimination that isn’t completely gone at this time.

There is something else here I want to delve into. Janos wants to be a watchmaker that takes a lot of skill with his hands. He also gained experiences from other jobs like during the war learning to build/fix airplanes. He states he can also fly the planes as well, which is something else we learn when he applies to work in a factory for them. These skills that he has translate to making him the crime boss that he is. What I also like is the confidence he gains through this when Jeff gets out of prison.

Next, I want to delve into is Janos and him being burned. I brought up how he is a tragic figure due to this. The only thing he can do is crime because no one will hire him. It is interesting that we never get to see his face burned up. I’m assuming this was due to not having the technology or the effects to show the damage. There is an interesting idea about a mask being made for him. It is funny as it is just Janos’ face so they didn’t need him to be bandaged up. He is also turning to crime to pay for the mask and potentially surgeries to fix his face. This leads him to Helen as well.

This will be the last thing with the story. I’m not sure if this idea of a blind woman falling for someone deformed started here or not, but I like it. Janos has lost all confidence in his appearance. Helen loves him, because not being able to see it, she looks past it and see he has a good heart. It is interesting that he’s a criminal at that time. This is an idea that we get with things like Red Dragon or even The Toxic Avenger.

Moving away from the story, I’ll go next to the acting. Lorre is solid as this crime boss. He is an actor that I haven’t seen as many of his movies as I should, but I can see why he’s worked as much as he did. Keyes is good as this blind woman who helps direct him back to the good. Beddoe works as Jim, the detective that wants to help Janos. Aside from that, all the criminals have that look and work in their roles for me. They round this movie out for what was needed there.

Then really the last thing to go into would be the effects, cinematography and soundtrack. I would have liked to see Janos’ face, but I can understand why we don’t. There isn’t much in the way of effects in this movie aside from that and it doesn’t need them. The cinematography is fine and the soundtrack fit for what was needed. Neither of these stood out for me if I’m going to be honest.

So then in conclusion here, I think that this movie has an interesting concept for early cinema. We have Janos who turns to crime when there is nothing else for him to do and it makes him a tragic figure. The performance from Lorre is good there. I also like having Helen who wants to help him, but then having all the criminals preventing that. I didn’t like the ending though as it didn’t make sense and was too abrupt. I get what they’re doing, but I wanted more. I would say aside from that cinematography and soundtrack were fine. It would have been nice to see Janos’ scars, but I get why we don’t. For me, this movie is just over average for me. It is lacking things for me to go higher than what I did.


My Rating: 6.5 out of 10