Mask of Diijon [1946]

Erich von Stroheim, the quintessential icon of Prussian severity and aristocratic decadence, brings a touch of class to The Mask of Diijon, although this low-budget genre film is already classier than most poverty-row thrillers. Diijon (Stroheim) is a haughty, humorless magician whose given up the stage for more "important" pursuits, namely the study of hypnotism. When he suspects his lovely young wife (Jeanne Bates) is having an affair with a chummy American musician, he puts his powers of hypnosis and elaborate magic tricks to work in a scheme of revenge. The plot is pure pulp and the picture tends to drag in the middle, but director Lew Landers, an efficient if modest craftsman, kicks off the film with a startling bit of Grand Guignol theater (a neat little trick with a guillotine shot in oppressive close-ups) and jolts the picture back to life with an action-packed conclusion and a deliciously dark sentence of poetic justice in the final scene. Unfortunately, the source material for the Image release is a well-worn TV print that's scratchy and full of splices; at times the flaws become unforgivably distracting. The film may not be a masterpiece, but it deserves better than this substandard presentation. --Sean Axmaker

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