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The Face Behind the Mask (1941)

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THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK, while generally regarded as a horror film, is not a pure example of the genre, and that is the very crux of its interest. Rather, it addresses topics outside the expected parameters of horror, and in offering an uncompromising view of human anguish, THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK is a truly unusual picture in both content and treatment. THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK relates how a hopeful new immigrant, Janos Szaby (Peter Lorre), arriving in New York City, is trapped in a hotel fire that leaves his face hideously scarred. Ostracized and refused employment although still able to work, the only way he can survive is by turning to theft. Hence, THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK is also a social consciousness film, detailing the position of the outcast and particularly the handicapped in society, along with crime and its causes, and the American immigrant milieu. All of these themes are treated with sympathy and taste, avoiding the gruesome potential of the premise. The only people who are kind to Janos are a tubercular small-time thief, Dinky (George E. Stone) and a blind woman, Helen (Evelyn Keyes). Janos falls in love with Helen as her soul sees the goodness within him, but the gang refuses to let Janos quit the rackets and kills her. This leads to a memorable denouement where Janos has suicidal revenge by flying the gang to the desert and marooning them all amid the sandy wastes, where he can watch their dying torment. The actual screenwriter of THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK gives a clue as to its intent: although the writing credit on screen was given to two men, Allen V…

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