James Mason as Maxwell Fleury, short-tempered plantation owner
On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955
Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes
Today’s post celebrates the great James Mason, who was born 113 years ago today on May 15, 1909. Whether playing a hero or villain or navigating a moral gray area in between, the velvet-voiced Mason brought a dignified presence to his performances.
Opposing the shining talents of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, Mason stars in this vividly photographed but dark-hearted drama as Maxwell Fleury, a privileged aristocrat dwelling on one of his family’s estates on the eponymous island.
Upon returning home in his sleek new Jaguar roadster one afternoon, he finds Egyptian cigarettes in his ashtray that fuel his baseless paranoia regarding his wife’s marital fidelity, a suspicion that dangerously spirals as the summery Santa Marta heat intensifies. Continue reading
James Mason as Phillip Vandamm, urbane spy and secret-trader
Mount Rushmore, Fall 1958
Film: North by Northwest
Release Date: July 28, 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Wardrobe Credit: Harry Kress
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
North by Northwest arguably set the tone for spy films in the following decade with its suave and well-suited hero, colorful settings, and elements of dangerous romance. James Mason’s urbane Phillip Vandamm is, in many ways, the archetypal James Bond villain: sinister and deadly but with the ability to be just as charming and debonair as the story’s protagonist.
Vandamm proves to be more sensitive and romantic than one would expect, and James Mason perfectly conveys just how badly Vandamm is stung by Eve’s betrayal. He zips through the Kübler-Ross model in record time, expressing denial (laughing off Leonard’s concerns), anger (punching Leonard), and acceptance (vindictively deciding Eve’s fate “from a great height…over water”) all within seconds of the same scene. Continue reading
James Mason as Odell Gardner, Broadway theatrical producer
A remote Mediterranean island, Summer 1937
Film: Evil Under the Sun
Release Date: March 5, 1982
Director: Guy Hamilton
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
72 years old when the film was made, James Mason was just as effortlessly sophisticated as ever in the 1982 mystery Evil Under the Sun, based on the novel by the same name by Agatha Christie. Mason steals the show among the ensemble cast as Odell Gardner, a Broadway producer with a sling of recent flops and wit sharp enough to match anyone but his wife, played by Sylvia Miles. Continue reading