James Mason was one of the finest actors of his generation. He could play chilling villains, decent and gentle heroes, and complex and intriguing characters. His brooding and intense expressions coupled with that voice of his made him quite the screen presence indeed.
I would like to share my three favourite screen performances from James Mason. The films are all excellent too, and I recommend them all to anyone who hasn’t seen them before. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Pandora And The Flying Dutchman are two of my favourite films of all time.
Pandora And The Flying Dutchman(1951)
In this haunting and poetic love story, James plays Hendrick van der Zee, a cursed man who is doomed to live in the world for all eternity. He must live onboard the vessel known as the Flying Dutchman. He can break free of his curse, but only if he finds a woman who loves him so much that she will willingly die for him.
James is terrific in this role. He conveys the tenderness and longing his character feels for the woman he loves, and also the fear of getting too close to her, as he doesn’t want her to die if she is the woman who could break his curse. He also convinces in the scene where we see the moment of jealousy and madness that led him to be cursed in the first place.
James has this otherworldly air about him in this, and this aura really helps us buy into him being a man who has walked the earth for centuries. He and Ava Gardner manage to convince us that their characters souls are calling out to one another.
The monologue James delivers during the flashback sequence is truly a performance for the ages. This is a film that I return to again, and again, and again. James Mason’s performance plays a major part in my love for this one.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
This was the first film that I ever saw James Mason in. Every single time I watch this film, I am always struck most by how complex and intriguing James managed to make Captain Nemo.
At times James makes Nemo frightening and intense. At other moments he allows us to see this man’s inner torment and hopes, and we really sympathise with him and admire him .
I have never seen any other actor play this character quite like James Mason did. James really managed to capture the varied facets of Nemo’s tormented soul. It is a remarkable performance, and it is one that is still highly fascinating and powerful when viewed today. The film is cracking too!
Bigger Than Life (1956)
James plays Ed Avery, a middle aged teacher who becomes addicted to some prescribed medication. His entire personality changes due to the effects of the drug. He goes from being a loving, warm and gentle husband and father, to becoming a tyrannical brute. His family become afraid of him and he won’t listen to the advice from anyone around him.
If you want to see what a good actor James Mason was, then this film is one that you should check out. His performance here really is extraordinary. At times he makes us despise Ed for his actions brought on by the medication, and yet at other times he makes our hearts break with his plight.
James does a terrific job of conveying Ed’s pain, fear and uncontrollable behaviour to us. It’s one of his best screen performances as far as I’m concerned. I never get tired of watching this film and enjoying James Mason’s magnificent performance in it.
What do you think of James Mason’s performances in these films? What are your favourite performances from him?