Friday, May 15, 2009

A Salute to James Mason

By Steve Evans

James Mason would be 100 years old if he were alive today.

On the great English actor’s birthday, I’d like to highlight a quintet of his greatest performances, with the gentle suggestion that you seek them out for your own edification and enjoyment.

As an actor Mason was every bit the equal of Sir Laurence Olivier, but with half the ego and roughly twice the charisma.

Dig this cinema:

A Star is Born (1954)
The first remake of that hoary old chestnut about a rising ingénue, and the man who loves her and guides her career while bearing witness to his own fade from the limelight. The pain in Mason’s eyes is palpable as he sees his lover surpass him in public adoration. Co-stars Judy Garland.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
As Captain Nemo in this adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, Mason simmers with rage and madness as an intellectual bent on the destruction of a society he long ago abandoned. This is the best live-action adventure Walt Disney would ever make, with positively stunning production values and eye-popping Technicolor cinematography. Co-stars Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and an amazing giant squid built by Bob Mattey, the special effects genius who 20 years later would assemble an enormous rubber shark for Steven Spielberg.

North by Northwest (1959)
Mason plays the hissably evil (and apparently bisexual) Van Damme opposite hero Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic cold war comedy-thriller, still on the short list of greatest films ever made.

Lolita (1962)
As the eternally frustrated Prof. Humbert Humbert, Mason feels the torment of his unrequited lust for the titular prepubescent in this adaptation of Nabokov’s most famous novel. Peter Sellers damn-near steals the show in Stanley Kubrick’s daring (for the time) motion picture about sexual obsession. But it is Mason who brings an air of desperation and gravitas to this sordid tale, while achieving the impossible: we do not approve of his infatuation, but he makes us understand it.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Mason plays the benign angel opposite star Warren Beatty in this remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). Beatty gets most of the screen time as a pro-footballer who’s killed before his time, but Mason makes the strongest impression as the put-upon angel who tries to explain things in the most patient and veddy British manner.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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