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The Face Behind the Mask

The Face Behind the Mask(1941)


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Hungarian immigrant Janos Szabo docks in New York, brimming with enthusiasm for his new land. On the street he is befriended by police lieutenant Jim O'Hara, who sends him to Terry Finnegan's hotel. There, Janos rents a room and works as a dishwasher in the café, dreaming of the day when he will be able to send for his sweetheart in Hungary. Janos' dreams are shattered, however, when his face is hideously disfigured in a hotel fire. Feeling responsible for directing Janos to the hotel, O'Hara leaves a note for him at the hospital. Janos eagerly awaits the removal of his bandages so that he can look for work as a watchmaker but then sees his grisly reflection in the mirror. Unable to find employment because of his appearance, Janos writes his fiancée a farewell letter and is contemplating suicide when a passerby asks him for a match. Horrified by Janos' face, the man runs away, dropping his wallet in haste. Then, from out of the shadows steps Dinky, a petty thief who suggests they split the money in the man's wallet. Dinky and Janos become friends and roommates, but soon the money is gone and they are reduced to living in a junkyard. When Dinky becomes ill and desperately needs medical attention, Janos uses his mechanical aptitude to rob a safe. Janos' criminal abilities bring him to the attention of Watts and Benson, two former members of Dinky's gang, who propose they go into partnership. Hoping to raise enough money to pay for plastic surgery, Janos accepts their offer and visits Dr. Cheever, a plastic surgeon. Dr. Cheever is on vacation, but his assistant offers to make Janos a temporary mask until the doctor returns. Soon after Janos and his gang rob the opera box office, Jeff Jeffries, the gang's former leader who has just been released from prison, arrives to challenge Janos' authority. Janos appeases Jeff by offering him a cut from the robbery and welcoming him to join the reconstituted gang. Janos' new mask conceals his hideous appearance, but when Dr. Cheever offers no hope for surgery, Janos angrily runs out of the office and into the street, where he collides with Helen Williams, a blind girl. Janos offers to carry Helen's boxes of beads home, and a friendship springs up between the disfigured man and the sightless girl. When Helen tells Janos that she is content to live in a world of sounds, he bitterly spits out the story of his disfigurement and receives sympathy from Helen. Later, when Helen hears a radio broadcast discussing Janos' most recent theft, she denounces the robbers, and Janos decides to go straight. After announcing his intentions to the gang, Janos gives Dinky his new address and confides that has bought a house in the country and plans to marry Helen. Jeff, however, is suspicious of Janos' motives, and when he finds the card that O'Hara gave Janos in the hospital, he is certain he has been double-crossed and beats Janos' address out of Dinky. The next morning, Janos drives Helen to their new house. As they sit down to their first breakfast together, Jeff arrives to interrupt their newfound tranquility. While Jeff occupies Janos in the house, the others plant a bomb in his car. Their task completed, the gang drives off and then shoots Dinky, pushing him out of the car and leaving him for dead. Wounded, Dinky drags himself to a gas station to warn Janos about the bomb. Because Janos does not have a phone, Dinky calls his neighbors and asks them to bring him to the phone. As Janos drives away with his neighbors, Helen decides to unpack the car. When Dinky warns him about the bomb, which is connected to the car radio, Janos rushes home, arriving just as Helen turns on the radio and detonates the bomb. After Helen dies in his arms, Janos visits Dinky and learns of Jeff's plans to fly to Mexico that night. Janos forces Dinky to promise that he will return home to his mother and buy a farm, and then leaves. Soon after, O'Hara receives an anonymous letter, informing him that Jeff's gang can be found in a patch of the Arizona desert one week from Friday and instructing him that the reward is to be paid to Dinky's mother. Meanwhile, Jeff and the others board the plane for Mexico, unaware that Janos is their pilot. Janos lands the plane in the desert, sentencing them to die. After tying Janos to the plane, the gang, crazed with thirst, strikes out into the desert to look for help. One week later, O'Hara arrives to keep his appointment and finds the bodies scattered throughout the desert and a note on Janos' body thanking him for his kindness.