Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Nick the Greek and The Mask of Dimitrios
I’ve been reading Harry Petrakis’ novel Nick the Greek, an interesting and entertaining piece of Greek-Americana which is about the greatest gambler of all time, Nick Dandolos, who originated from Rethymnon. Dandolos, apparently, won and lost millions, although Petrakis suggests that an authentic gambler isn’t motivated by money, but by an extreme form of philotimo, a fearless gesture informed by self-abnegation and, ultimately, self-destruction. There’s a good chapter in Nick the Greek in which Dandolos spends time in Paris gambling and womanising with a fellow Greek high-roller, a sympathetic portrait of the arms dealer, the original ‘merchant of death’, Basil Zaharoff (Vasileios Zacharias). Zaharoff is supposed to have provided the inspiration for the character of Dimitrios Makropoulos in Eric Ambler’s brilliant noir novel The Mask of Dimitrios (1939), which relates the obsessive quest by an English writer to trace the career of the Smyrniot Makropoulos, who is a thief, killer, spy, assassin, drug dealer, drug addict, white slave trader and all the rest, a quest that takes him on a journey through inter-war Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and France. The book was made into a classic film noir in 1945, a clip from which is above.