in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock thriller North By Northwest
Editor Paul Hehn has just profiled actor James Mason, and thank heavens. He’s a great one.
James Mason was a “polite but pitiless leading man,” as Mr. Hehn puts it, in movies ranging from Odd Man Out (sorta good guy) to North By Northwest (bad guy) to The Boys From Brazil (verrrry bad guy). Mason was a one-off type, in no small part due to his distinctive suave and muted British accent.
Which he once tried to disguise, not too successfully, on What’s My Line:
His first utterance is good — he sounds like Snuffy Smith — but then he just can’t keep that Chems Mehsonny thing under wraps.
James Mason never won an Academy Award, as Mr. Hehn points out, though he was nominated for three very good films: A Star is Born (1954), Georgy Girl (1966) and The Verdict (1982).
It’s a fine thing that he didn’t win for The Verdict, because he was too good in that role to get a “let’s give one to the old guy” Oscar. His performance as a rich and villainous old lawyer — described in the film as “the Prince of Darkness” — is the perfectly-weighted work you get from an old pro. He’s mild, menacing, and knows just when to let his inner ham out for a quick threatening blast.
His “Prince of Darkness” would be perfectly believable defending the Wall Street hustlers of today, no doubt successfully. (In The Verdict he’s defending the Catholic Church, and — surprise! — he could take that role today too.) He’s a daunting Goliath for Paul Newman‘s drunken David.
But enough about The Verdict. Read our James Mason biography »