Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Mask of Diijon (1946)

Poor Diijon, he has no time for the frivolities of life. A reclusive ex-magician has little patience for a world which is satisfied with cheap gags, tricks, and illusions. His wife, Victoria, tries to inject some practicality into Diijon, whose primary goal, in his words, is to "develop my mind spiritually." Victoria, surely at least twenty years younger than her husband, would rather catch up with her old beau Tony Holiday (what an infuriating name!). As played by Erich von Stroheim, Diijon is a slab of granite, whose normal range of expression goes no further than a slight twitch of the mouth or a roll of the eyes. There are a couple moments where the mask slips. First, when Diijon thwarts a stickup at a diner by hypnotizing the bandit.

So proud of his power, he lets slip a smile. The second instance is when Diijon takes a back seat at the Romany Gardens club to watch his wife perform a sentimental tune, "I Wore White Roses".

He looks up at her with teary eyes.

Startled, she recedes out of the spotlight.

It is a brief moment of poetry, an encapsulation of the character's loneliness. Teetering between pathos and violent psychosis, it looks forward to the scene in Blue Velvet where Jeffrey Beaumont spies Frank Booth alone at the Slow Club crying to the title song. (Another connection between this Lew Landers picture and the world of David Lynch is the presence of Jeanne Bates as Victoria, later as Mrs. X in Eraserhead.)

This is a fine film---economical in storytelling with a few flourishes of style. The tightly knit script satisfies with its book-ended guillotine executions, one more illusory than the other.

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