Thursday, September 23, 2010
JAMES MASON: ODD MAN OUT
JAMES MASON: ODD MAN OUT. Sheridan Morley. Harper & Row; 1989.
A biography of the enigmatic actor James Mason written by the son of actor Robert Morley. Odd Man Out covers the actor's life and career in workmanlike if not terribly riveting fashion. Mason was torn between a career as an actor or an architect, and angered his family and fellow countrymen by being a pacifist during WW2. He made critical statements about the British film industry to the press that didn't help matters much, and left for America. While there he was frustrated by the parts he got, thinking most of his movies were rubbish. But what really stuck in his craw was that he never developed a reputation as a great Shakespearean (or even stage) actor along the lines of Gielgud and Olivier. He had a long-lasting marriage to Pamela Mason which fell apart when they developed different attitudes and goals, then married a minor and much younger actress late in life. Along the way he made a variety of films -- some memorable, many not -- including Hitchcock's great North By Northwest (Mason also made a notable appearance on one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour); They Were Sisters (one of many villainous-to-the-women roles he would play); A Place of One's Own (a role which Mason, oddly enough, "fought long and hard for"); Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life (in which he was wasted); and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Late in his career Mason got some terrific roles in such films as The Verdict, and never disappointed.
Verdict: Not a bad book about a highly private man with very long quotes from a few friends and co-workers, but hopefully not the last word on Mason. ***.