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16 July 2012

James Mason

Gifted English actor James Mason (1909 - 1984) played in 150 British and American films and was three times nominated for an Oscar. His distinctive voice enabled him to play a menacing villain as greatly as his good looks assisted him as a matinee idol with a dark side.

James Mason
Belgian photocard by Kwatta, no. C 265. Photo by Metro Goldwyn Mayer for East Side, West Side (1949, Mervyn LeRoy).

James Mason
German postcard by ISV, no. A 69. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for Island in the Sun (1957, Robert Rossen).

James Mason
Belgian postcard by Cox, no. 29.

Quota Quickies
James Neville Mason was born in the mill town of Huddersfield, England in 1909. His parents were John and Mabel Mason; his father was a wealthy wool merchant. James attended schools in Marlborough and Cambridge, where he discovered acting on a lark and abandoned a planned career as an architect. Mason won his first professional role in The Rascal and made his debut in London's West End theater world in 1933 with Gallows Glorious. In 1934, he joined the Old Vic under the guidance of Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Alexander Korda. Korda gave Mason his first small film role in 1933, but fired him three days into shooting. Mason remained in the theater becoming a prominent stage actor. From 1935 on, he also starred in Late Extra (1935, Albert Parker), and many other Quota Quickies, the minor films to accommodate laws mandating a certain percentage of films shown in Britain to be British-made. Lucia Bozzola writes at AllMovie that Mason "made a career and personal breakthrough, however, with I Met a Murderer (1939). Along with co-writing, co-producing, and starring in the film, he also wound up marrying his leading lady, Pamela Kellino, in 1940." Only a few years later, Mason became Britain's biggest screen star.

James Mason
Dutch postcard by REB.

James Mason
East-German postcard by Th. Haasemann/Degro Phot. Photo: Rank.

James Mason
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 151. Photo: Gainsborough.

James Mason
British postcard by Real Photograph, no. 258.

Brooding Anti-heroes
As an avowed pacifist, James Mason refused to perform military service during WW II. This stance caused his family to break with him for many years. In 1943 he caused a sensation in the cinema as a handsome, sadistic aristocrat in the Gainsborough costume drama The Man in Grey (1943, Leslie Arliss). He went on to become a popular star by playing brooding anti-heroes in films like They Met in the Dark (1943, Carl Lamac), Candlelight in Algeria (1944, George King), The Seventh Veil (1945, Compton Bennett) and The Wicked Lady (1945, Leslie Arliss) opposite Margaret Lockwood. He also starred with Deborah Kerr and Robert Newton in Hatter's Castle (1942, Lance Comfort) and played a mortally wounded Irish revolutionary in the suspense thriller Odd Man Out (1947, Carol Reed). In 1949, he went to America, where he starred in Caught (1949, Max Ophüls). In Hollywood he played somewhat more glamorous or heroic roles than in Britain in films like Madame Bovary (1949, Vincente Minnelli) and The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophüls). In 1952 while remodeling his home, he discovered several reels of Buster Keaton's ‘lost’ films (Mason had purchased Keaton's Hollywood mansion) and immediately recognized their historical significance and was responsible for their preservation. As an actor he had international success in the remake of A Star Is Born (1954, George Cukor), playing a complex, Barrymore-style declining actor who marries a rising showgirl played by Judy Garland. His other roles included General Erwin Rommel twice - in The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951, Henry Hathaway) and in The Desert Rats (1953, Robert Wise), a Nazi spy in 5 Fingers (1952, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Brutus in Julius Caesar (1953, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), a world weary, complex hero-villain in The Man Between (1953, Carol Reed), the obsessed Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954, Richard Fleischer), a small town school teacher driven insane by the effects of Cortisone in Bigger Than Life (1956, Nicholas Ray), and a determined explorer in the Jules Verne adaptation Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959, Henry Levin).

James Mason
Dutch postcard by S. & v. H., A.. Photo: M.P.E.A.

James Mason
French postcard, no. 851. Photo: M.G.M.

James Mason
Yugoslavian postcard by ZK, no. 2063.

James Mason
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 499. Phot. Photo: 20th Century Fox / International Press.

His Lasciviously Clipped Vowels
James Mason's most famous roles are probably suave master spy Philip Vandamm in North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock) and Prof. Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1962, Stanley Kubrick). Andrew Pulver in The Guardian: "Nabokov's professorial paedophile terrified the life out of Hollywood's star names, but Mason stepped up to play Humbert Humbert for Stanley Kubrick.(Both Laurence Olivier and David Niven turned it down.) Mason's stuffed-shirt reticence, allied to his lasciviously clipped vowels, made him ideal for the role." His later films include the Harold Pinter-scripted The Pumpkin Eater (1964, Jack Clayton); the John Le Carré thriller The Deadly Affair (1966, Sidney Lumet), the mystery The Last of Sheila (1973, Herbert Ross), the war drama Cross of Iron (1977, Sam Peckinpah), the TV series Jesus of Nazareth (1977, Franco Zeffirelli), Heaven Can Wait (1978, Warren Beatty, Buck Henry), the TV mini-series Salem's Lot (1979, Tobe Hooper), and Yellowbeard (1983, Mel Damski), in which he played a surreal pirate captain. Jim Beaver comments at IMDb: "His tendency to take any job offered led him to have many unworthy credits on his resume, but throughout his career he remained a respected and powerful figure in the industry. His mellifluous voice and an uncanny ability to suggest rampant emotion beneath a face of absolute calm made him a fascinating performer to watch." Late in life, he played a corrupt lawyer in The Verdict (1982, Sidney Lumet) opposite Paul Newman. It earned him his third and final Oscar nomination. he served as narrator for a British television series on the films of Charlie Chaplin, Unknown Chaplin. James Mason died of a heart attack at his home in Switzerland in 1984. He was married twice. From 1941 till their divorce in 1964, his wife was actress (and later columnist and TV host) Pamela Mason. They had two children, actress-author Portland Mason and producer Morgan Mason. In 1971 he married actress Clarissa Kaye-Mason.


Scene from Odd Man Out (1947, Carol Reed). Source: Stupidevn (YouTube).


Trailer North by Northwest (1959). Source: The Justv (YouTube).


Trailer Lolita (1962). Source: Cinemaart (YouTube).

Sources: David Thomson (The Guardian), Lucia Bozzola (AllMovie), Wikipedia, Reel Classics, Jim Beaver (IMDb) and IMDb.

2 comments:

Hugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hugh said...

I see James in Aidan TURNER as Philip Lombard in 'And Then There Were None', as well as his other appearances shaved and combed.
Many people want Aidan to be the next James Bond, and James was one of the early choices for James Bond before they finally cast Sean CONNERY.

So I think Aidan's acting + the impression dub by Michael YORK (D'Artagnan, Basil Exposition, etc) would do the perfect trick as the role of James MASON for a biopic, one or more.