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James Mason North By Northwest James Mason North By Northwest


Five of the Best James Mason Movies



Born in 1909 the son of a wealthy wool merchant James Mason had a privileged English upbringing, being educated at Marlborough and Cambridge.

After a disastrous start in films when he was removed from Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Don Juan (1934) he made his debut in a quota quickie the following year.

Mason reached stardom in the Forties with a series of melo-dramas for Gainsborough studios, in the first of which, The Man in Grey, he portrayed a sadistic aristocrat who delights in humiliating his aristocratic wife.

In the Fifties he went to Hollywood, making his mark in films like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest or alongside Judy Garland in A Star Is Born. Apart from his memorable performance in Lolita his later films were generally unworthy of his talents although his presence always enhanced movies like The Last of Sheila or the Agatha Christie thriller Evil Under the Sun.

James Mason’s long career was a search for quality roles in quality films, few of which were available to him in Britain in the Forties when his cruel handsomeness made him the country’s biggest star. His open criticism of the British industry and his departure for America made him a rebel – but there he was able to mature as the excellent performer he undoubtedly was. Mason died in 1984 but he was a true star for many decades – here is our pick for five of his best movies.

James Mason Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out (1946)
A classic drama from a stage when Mason was keen to break away from the Gainsborough melodramas. Here in Carol Reed’s classic he is playing an IRA leader who is wounded during a holdup. Desperately trying to escape the police, Mason encounters people who variously help him, refuse him help, or try to betray him. Magnificent photography by Robert Krasker and William Alwyn’s score create an atmosphere of doom. Mason’s performance is often considered one of the best of his career. William George Fay, who plays the Catholic priest was one of the founders of Dublin’s famed Abbey Theater in 1904 with William Butler Yeats. He had appeared in the famous first production of J. M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in 1907.
Director: Carol Reed
Cast: James Mason, Robert Beatty, Fay Compton, Cyril Cusack, William Hartnell, F.J. McCormick, Beryl Measor, Robert Newton, Dan O’Herlihy, Kathleen Ryan

James Mason Desert Fox

The Desert Fox (1951)
Mason is utterly convincing as Nazi Field Marshal Rommel, who gained notoriety for his successful North African campaigns. The big-budget actioner portrays not only his victories and ultimate defeat but also his personal doubts and conflicts with his superiors back in Berlin. The Desert Fox was the first film to have a “teaser,” or pre-credit sequence at its opening. The ten-minute sequence prepared the audience for the film to come.
Director: Henry Hathaway
Cast: James Mason, Richard Boone, Leo G. Carroll, Eduard Franz, Cedric Hardwicke, George Macready, Everett Sloane

James Mason North By Northwest

North by Northwest (1959)
This is one of Hitchcock’s greatest, with suspense, action, and comedy in one non-stop motion picture. In one of his patented ordinary-man-in-exceptional-circumstances plots, advertising executive Cary Grant gets kidnapped from a business engagement and winds up in a baffling, twisting battle with enemy agents, led by ruthless Mason, and on the run from both police and the agents. This technically superb film yielded some of Hitchcock’s best-known images: the crop duster bearing down on Grant in a remote cornfield, Grant and Saint dangling from Mt. Rushmore, Saint’s frank seduction of Grant on a train. In rather too typical Hollywood fashion the wonderfully starchy Jessie Royce Landis plays Cary Grant’s mother although in real life, Grant was ten months her senior. Essential viewing. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best (Original) Screenplay.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Cary Grant, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, Josephine Hutchinson, Philip Ober, Eva Marie Saint

James Mason Lolita

Lolita (1962)
The novel that remains an unquenchable controversy as adapted for the screen by its author, Nabokov. While the novel, though once banned, is accepted in most quarters as a masterpiece, this film version by Kubrick is hotly debated. A professor (Mason) who takes rooms in a widow’s home conceives a distracting obsession with her teenage daughter, eventually marrying the grasping mother (Shelley Winters) in order to remain close to Lolita (Sue Lyon). The triangle results in murder and humiliation. Lyon seems a bit too knowing as the object of obsession. Academy Award Nomination for Best (Adapted) Screenplay.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: James Mason, Peter Sellers, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon

James Mason Boys From Brazil

The Boys from Brazil (1978)
Levin’s best-selling novel is the basis for this suspenser about the propogation of a new race of Hitlers. When one of his proteges locates the elusive Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck), famed Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) stumbles on Mengele’s grand scheme to launch the Fourth Reich. Mason’s aquits himself with effortless ease alongside Peck and Olivier as Eduard Seibert. Gregory Peck’s children worked on the film during their breaks from college. His son Anthony Peck was an assistant director and his daughter Cecilia Peck was an assistant unit photographer. Nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Laurence Olivier.
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast: James Mason, Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, Rosemary Harris,



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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