Friday, May 15, 2009

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #26 (James Mason Centennial Edition)

Today would have been the 100th natal anniversary of one of filmdom’s most delightful actors, James Mason, and TCM did a whip around in the office to put together a last minute tribute with four Mason movies (1953’s The Story of Three Loves in on right now as I type this.) For a proper tribute to the man, of course, it would behoove you to check out Edward Copeland’s post.

Thunder Rock (1942) – As World War II threatens in the background, disillusioned newspaperman Michael Redgrave is punching a time clock doing light housekeeping—I’m sorry, that should read lighthouse keeping—at the titled structure, located in Lake Michigan. Ninety years ago, a ship was lost in that very area and all hands were lost--but because Redgrave’s got a pretty vivid imagination, he’s managed to conjure up Captain Joshua Stuart (Finlay Currie) and several of the passengers. Redgrave’s intention is to create another world in his mind in order to escape the one he’s in now, but he finds the participants so silly and shallow he flashes back to his past (where the events leading to his disillusionment are revealed) in order to flesh them out…only to discover that they are now as cynical and disappointed as he. Redgrave then learns of the passengers’ stories and with this knowledge, vows to concentrate on the real world…because after all, there’s a war to win!

Yes, Thunder Rock is somewhat of a dated propaganda piece…and I’ll admit, it’s tough sledding in the beginning because you’re presented with all these characters that you know precious little about. But when Rock focuses on their backgrounds—a would-be suffragette (Barbara Mullen) who, in a disturbing montage sequence, finds herself repeatedly imprisoned for entertaining silly little notions that women should educate themselves; a doctor (Frederick Valk) who is ostracized from both his colleagues and community for his experiments in anesthesia; and a man in ill health (Frederick Cooper) who must travel to “the New World” not only for his welfare but his family’s—it really kicks into high gear. Just when things start to get too ethereal, Mason brings things down to Earth with his sardonic portrayal of Redgrave’s best buddy—and Fugitive fans might get a kick out of seeing a young Barry Morse (in his second feature film appearance) as Mullen’s fiancé…with hair, even!

Hotel Reserve (1944) – Mason’s role in Thunder Rock is pretty thin but he gets top billing in this crackerjack thriller (again, a pre-WW2 treatise; the events take place in 1938) playing an Austrian medical student who, while vacationing on the French Riviera, is arrested by the police on suspicion of espionage. Mason does have a chance to clear his name—all he has to do is determine which of the ten guests in the titular hotel is the real German spy. This film has a heck of a pedigree—it’s based on Eric Ambler’s Epitaph For a Spy, and because it was filmed at R-K-O it reminds me a good deal of the earlier Journey Into Fear (1942) which, oddly enough, TCM showed earlier today…but I think they’d make a good double feature. Among the suspects are Lucie Mannheim, Raymond Lovell, Herbert Lom (yes, Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movie series), Clare Hamilton, Valentine Dyall…and Fredrick Valk, who we saw previously in Rock.


Baron Waste said...

I liked his performance in Here Comes Mr Jordan - er, I mean, Heaven Can Wait. It's not easy to reprise a Claude Rains rôle - can you imagine anyone else as Casablanca's Captain Renault? Yet J Mason does a believable job.

Classic Maiden said...

I rather love James Mason as an actor. While I've seen a lot of his work, those two I have neglected to see. Especially the latter film I'd like to check out.

Even today, I remember the first movie I ever saw him, MADAME BOVARY in which he plays the author of the book. While Jennifer Jones steals that movie and Van Heflin is amazing in it too, I still couldn't help but be fascinated with Mr. Mason all the more :)

best wishes,

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Sebina, I got a glance at TCM's August schedule and Madame Bovary is on it -- the only part of the movie I've seen is the justifiably famous ballroom scene (if Vincente Minnelli never did anything in his career but that, he'd still be revered) so I'm quite anxious to catch the film from stem to stern.

Classic Maiden said...

Ivan, I'm so glad that they're showing that film as well. And I agree on your assessment of Vincent Minnelli - all I can add is that he was a truly marvelous director.

Enjoy the film!