Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

CHARADE (1954)

Pamela Mason and James Mason 
CHARADE (1954). Director: Roy Kellino. Produced by James Mason.

Actor James Mason had founded a film company with the director Roy Kellino and his wife, Pamela, in the thirties, and did so again with the same principals in the fifties. In the interim Roy and Pamela got divorced and Pamela then married James Mason, with whom she'd had an affair, and Mason produced this trio of stories co-starring his wife -- with the cuckolded ex-husband doing the directorial duties. Okay. The first story concerns a lonely lady artist whose neighbor, another woman, is strangled one night. The artist does a sketch of the man she sees coming out of the murdered woman's apartment. She sees the man (Mason) again when he moves into the now empty apartment, and the artist and the stranger become friends. The artist becomes mesmerized by the stranger and is not at all horrified by the fact that he's also a strangler. This can't lead into anything good and of course it doesn't. The premise is interesting but the people are too unpleasant to fully engage us, and as a story of erotic obsession it's too tepid. The second story, "Duel at Dawn," (from Dumas) concerns a Major Linden (Mason) who is engaged to the Baroness Tanslan (Pamela Mason of The Navy vs the Night Monsters). Captain Stamm (Scott Forbes, who appeared on Zane Grey Theater with Joan Crawford), whose proposal of marriage to the baroness had been rejected, so insults the major that the latter challenges him to a duel -- although the terms set by the captain are outrageous. This is the best of the three stories and is suspenseful and intriguing in equal measure. The last story, apparently scripted by the starring couple, is a dull mess about a wealthy man in New York who quits it all to become a butler back in England, where he meets the maid Lily, marries her, and winds up back in his office in New York. Meant to be funny, this segment is merely tedious. The Masons would have been better off if they had done a full-length version of "Duel at Dawn," which is terrific. James and Pamela are both excellent actors, and Mason is especially good as the major. Forbes, Paul Canavagh as Colonel Heisler. Bruce Lester as Captain van Buren, Sean McClory [Valley of the Dragons] as Jack Stuydevant, the wealthy man's friend in episode three, all give excellent support, as does the uncredited actor who plays Mason's employer in the final story. Pamela and James appear as themselves at the opening and ending and in introductions to each segment. They divorced ten years later.

Verdict: This vanity production is one third all right. **3/4.


angelman66 said...

Bill, I had absolutely no idea that he directed too. Would like to see this one, especially since it costars his ctress wife Pamela. I don't think I've ever seen her in a movie.

Great roundup on a star I love--I always enjoy your themed weeks– thanks as always, Bill!

William said...

Thank you, Chris, for reading and for your comments -- it is much appreciated!

My first introduction to Pamela Mason was after her divorce from James when she re-invented herself as a colorful, chatty type on talk shows and game shows and the like in the sixties; she was sort of famous for being not-so-famous! Her link to Mason really became her only claim to fame despite her acting career.