Stream On: Films from the greatest crime and espionage author you never heard of

By on November 19, 2020

Howard Graham, an American armaments engineer working with the Turkish Navy is targeted aboard a freighter on which he seeks to escape the German intelligence services in Journey Into Fear. (IMDb.com)

[James Bond] reached for the slim, expensive-looking attaché case on the floor beside him and took out The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler and put the case, which was very heavy in spite of its size, on the seat beside him (From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957).

I read these words as a mere youth and a beardless boy, and rushed to the public library (which was the internet before the internet). There I looked up Eric Ambler, and haven’t looked back.

“Eric Ambler is generally credited with having raised the thriller to the level of literature. He brought intellectual substance to the genre at a time when it often suffered from shortages of surprise, maturity, verisimilitude and literary skill. Now, Eric Ambler is synonymous with novels of suspense, action, adventure and intrigue in foreign lands. His books became models for generations of other writers” (EricAmblerBooks.com). “Ambler’s heroes … are very unexceptional sorts, the quintessence of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances” (CrimeReads.com).


(Here and there on the web; undubbed and unsubtitled on OK.ru) 1943; public domain

Our first ordinary hero is a desk jockey: Howard Graham, an American armanents engineer in Turkey during WWII. His unnamed business with the Turkish Navy ensures a Nazi contract on his life as he travels through Turkey from the Soviet port of Batumi to the U.S.

A Mercury presentation, Journey into Fear was directed by Orson Welles, and then Norman Foster, when Welles’ other projects took him away, with a screenplay by Welles and star Joseph Cotten, from [Eric Ambler’s novel]. It’s a noir masterpiece of dark shadows and atmosphere concerning a hitman’s cat-and-mouse game with guileless American Graham (Cotten, in a role similar to his Holly Martins in The Third Man). The hitman, Banat, is memorably cast as a taciturn, round fellow in spectacles and hat; much of the suspense comes aboard a freighter at sea on which Graham and Banat keep running into each other, when Graham knows Banat’s intentions and Banat knows he knows, but is unable to get him alone.

It’s quite a thriller. [Here]’s Eddie Muller’s introduction to the film and its brilliance and obscurity on TCM’s “Noir Alley” in 2017.

A note on watching with a phone, tablet or computer: If you have a “smart” TV or a [Roku] or other streaming device, you can “mirror” or cast content on your phone or tablet to it in various ways, [as described here]. And if you are legally able to download the movie to a thumb drive (as you can from [Archive.org], for example), most modern TVs have USB ports you can use to see that content.

Blocked mystery writer Cornelius Leyden, on holiday in Turkey, hears of the murder of a legendary criminal, and decides he would make a good antagonist for a book. He would soon find out just how good! (IMDb.com)


(Another rarity—Prime Video; Apple TV; free at Archive.org) 1944

Also apparently in the public domain, I came across this film on a $1.99 DVD of suspense films. As I thought, it was a screen treatment of [Ambler’s 1939 novel]. It reunited Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet from Casablanca, and marked the film debut of a very charismatic Zachary Scott in the title role.

Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a blocked mystery author on holiday who becomes acquainted at a party in Turkey with secret-police Colonel Haki (who also featured in Journey Into Fear) and learns that the body of Dimitrios Makropoulos, a notorious and particularly vicious gangster, has washed ashore and decides he might make an interesting subject for a book. As Leyden researches the hair-raising history of Dimitrios, he becomes aware that a mysterious Mr. Peters (Greenstreet) is shadowing him. Mr. Peters avers that Dimitrios is not dead, and he has a plan to find and blackmail him—with which he could use Leyden’s help.

When Leyden and Peters finally locate Dimitrios and meet with him, alone, the naïve ordinary “hero” Leyden (and the audience) is overwhelmed by his malevolence, brilliantly portrayed by Zachary Scott.

[Here]’s a contemporary trailer for The Mask of Dimitrios.


Petty conman Arthur Simpson tries to con the wrong tourists and finds himself an unwilling participant in an audacious heist planned for the Topkapı museum. (IMDb.com)


(Amazon.com; Prime Video; Google Play, YouTube TV, Fandango Now and Vudu) 1964

Topkapı, the 1964 treatment of Ambler’s 1962 novel [The Light of Day], is less film noir than swinging continental 60’s.

“When Arthur Abdel Simpson (our ordinary ‘hero’) first spots Harper in the Athens airport, he recognizes him as a tourist unfamiliar with city and in need of a private driver. In other words, the perfect mark for Simpson’s brand of entrepreneurship. But Harper proves to be more the spider than the fly when he catches Simpson riffling his wallet for traveler’s checks. Soon Simpson finds himself blackmailed into driving a suspicious car across the Turkish border. Then, when he is caught again, this time by the police, he faces a choice: cooperate with the Turks and spy on his erstwhile colleagues or end up in one of Turkey’s notorious prisons. The authorities suspect an attempted coup, but Harper and his gang of international jewel thieves have planned something both less sinister and much, much more audacious” (From the inside flap of the Alfred A. Knopf novel).

Like many movies of the early 60s, Topkapı is colorful and self-consciously “hip.” Stateless conman Arthur “Simp”son is an ineffectual comic figure, wonderfully played by Peter Ustinov. Harper is played by Maximilian Schell, and Harper’s companion, Elizabeth Lipp, is Melina Mercouri, coming off her international success in the same director’s Never on Sunday…and a bit much.

Ambler himself wrote the screenplay with Monja Danischewsky. More dated than the black-and-white films preceding it, it’s still very entertaining; Ustinov won an Oscar and he and Mercouri were nominated for and won other awards. The scenery is breathtaking and everyone is charming and/or quirky. And Topkapı is streaming widely! [Here’s a trailer.]

Next time, shooting star Robert Pastorelli.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


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