Showing posts with label James Mason. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Mason. Show all posts

Monday, December 18, 2017

Cop-Out (1967)

Former barrister John Sawyer (James Mason) drowns his sorrows in liquor. He lives with his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin) in a decrepit old mansion. The two have a strained relationship brought on by two major factors: the abandonment of the family by the matriarch and their age gap. Angela spends her time avoiding her dad. She works for touchy-feely barrister Chelham (Michael Danvers-Walker) and spends her free time with her friends. Most of her pals are rich socialites, bored with life and seeking the thrill that only misbehaving can bring them. One particular member of the group stands out, Jo Christoforides (Paul Bertoya), the Greek immigrant, son of a laundry woman. Angela and Jo are secretly in love. But Jo's status as a poor foreigner makes him an easy scapegoat when a dead body turns up at the Sawyer mansion. Eccentric ship steward Barney Teale (Bobby Darin) has been found murdered in the room he'd been secretly staying in. Teale's association with Angela's group of friends seems to be his downfall. Who killed Teale? Can Sawyer come out of his alcoholic haze to save Jo from being wrongfully accused of murder and restore his relationship with his daughter?

"The young should be left alone. You don't like us very much do you? It's very well because we represent the future you're afraid of. Sometimes we hate you too because you're the past we never had." - John Sawyer (James Mason)

Cop-Out (1967) is a family drama that explores the generational divide and the youth culture of the 1960s through the lens of a murder mystery. It reminded me a little of Bonjour Tristesse (1958) in that it demonstrates how bored rich people can ruin lives; their own and that of others. Unfortunately, Cop-Out failed to reach it's potential. And it did have potential. I was quite interested in the clashing cultures of Mason's older generation and Chaplin's youthful generation that was coming of age in the late 1960s. That entire decade was a turbulent one and also drastically altered pretty much ever aspect of youth culture. There was also potential with the theme of sex. One of the characters is secretly gay, a stripper ends up being a key witness, and it's suggested that Angela's character sleeps around, although she is clearly committed to Jo. It's all there but not as fleshed out as it could be. Then there is the literary theme that I suspect is stronger in the source material than it is in the movie. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is used in solving the case and there is even a short reading by James Mason.

The story is based on the novel The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon. I quite enjoyed watching Panique (1946) at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. That movie is also based on a Simenon novel and I got to hear his youngest son Pierre Simenon discuss his father's life and career which included many many film adaptations. Before Cop-Out, the novel was filmed in France as Les inconnus dans la maison (1942) in France. Selmur Productions, an arm of ABC Films, shot The Stranger in the House, minus the pluralization in the novel's original name, on location in Southampton and Winchester, England. It was released in the UK in 1967 and then released as Cop-Out in the US.

Cop-Out was directed by Pierre Rouve who also adapted the screenplay. Rouve had a very short career in movies. Cop-Out was the only movie he directed. He wrote a total of four movies, was an assistant director on one, and produced six others including the ground-breaking Blow-Up (1966). He went on to enjoy a career as a broadcaster and art critic.

Unfortunately, Cop-Out was a flop in the UK and US. Originally George C. Scott was supposed to play the deranged ship steward Barney Teale but was eventually replaced by Bobby Darin. Personally I think Darin was an under-rated actor who could deliver some fine performances in both drama and comedy. He's a favorite of mine but his performance in this film thoroughly confused me. He does his best James Cagney impression in both voice and mannerisms. I couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to be a George C. Scott type or if he was channeling Cody Jarrett from White Heat (1949).

Actor Ian Ogilvy, who plays Sawyer's troubled nephew Desmond Flower, wrote briefly about working on the movie in his memoir Once a Saint. He recalls one outing with actor James Mason:
"It was a cold day and windy too and there was nobody about. We got to the end of the pier and looked out over the heaving grey sea. 'Well, that's not very interesting, is it?' said Mason. 'Don't know why we bothered.' The same could have been said about the film we were making." 

Cop-Out wasn't a complete loss for me. I was interested in the core of the story enough that I am looking to obtain a copy of Georges Simenon's novel, which is available from the New York Review Books, to see if there is more to the story that this movie might have missed.

Cop-Out is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. Thank you to Kino for sending me a copy for review!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror! (1958) has a plot so taut with tension that I watched it wide-eyed at the edge of my seat in wonder and a bit of terror. Based on an original story by director Andrew L. Stone, this fantastic Film Noir from MGM benefits from a brilliant cast, a fast-moving storyline, great editing, excellent build up of suspense and a MacGuffin. A term made famous by director Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is something in the story that drives the characters to action. What's interesting about a MacGuffin it's only purpose is to drive the plot but ends up being of little importance in the overall scheme of the story. For Cry Terror! the MacGuffin is a bomb on a airplane with the threat to plant more. The real story however is about the kidnapping of the bomb's inventor and his family by terrorists.

Paul Hoglin (Rod Steiger) hires his old army buddy Jim Nolner (James Mason) to develop a bomb.
Jim thought he was working on a government project. Much to his surprise Paul is the head of a terrorist group and the bomb winds up in a commercial airplane. At first no one is hurt but the threat mobilizes FBI into action. Just as Jim was about to report his friend to the FBI, Paul shows up to the Nolner home and kidnaps Jim, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and their young daughter.  The kidnapping gives the terrorists time to put their plan into action which includes extorting the FBI for $50,000 which Joan must pick up and deliver to them.

Paul's terrorist group is made up of a bunch of misfit characters including Neville Brand as the Benzadrine addicted Steve, Angie Dickinson as Paul's girlfriend Eileen and Jack Klugman as Vince the thug. The FBI team led by Kenneth Tobey as Agent Frank Cole still believe Jim was part of this original group of terrorist. Once they learn that Jim was merely a pawn in the terrorist group's game they work to help save the kidnapped family. Little do Paul Hoglin and his co-horts know that they messed with the wrong family. The Nolners are never complacent and constantly scheme to fight back against the terrorists and protect their young daughter.

James Mason gets top billing but the two real stars of this movie are Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens who both deliver powerful performances. Steiger is truly terrifying and delivers a powerful yet nuanced performance as the lead villain. Stevens plays Mason's wife and while she is in a constant state of terror, she rises above being just a victim and proves to be a strong character. She fights tooth and nail to protect her family and never allows herself to be paralyzed with fear. The Nolners are a true power couple. When they're first kidnapped, the terrorists threaten to separate them from their daughter. This is simply unacceptable to the parents. They decide to walk out the door together to their certain death than to bear a separation. Such a move forces the terrorists to regroup and modify their plans. This is the first of many brave acts.

Steiger and Stevens dominate the film but James Mason has his moments to shine. There is a wonderful scene when Mason makes a daring escape through an elevator shaft.

Jack Klugman, Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)

I'm a big fan of Angie Dickinson and Jack Klugman so I was delighted to see them both in this film. Neither of them though are truly effective as villains but Neville Brand makes up for it in spades. Brand's Steve is a serial rapist and murderer and we fear for Joan (Stevens) when they are left together. Those scenes are unsettling and add to the growing tension in the film.

Inger Stevens and Neville Brand

A few points in the film, the inner monologue of Joan (Inger Stevens) or Jim (James Mason) takes over as narrator. In most movies this sort of narration is not always effective. In this film it worked beautifully. Their thought processes help audiences understand their fear and gave us insight into their scheming.

The film was shot on location in New York City and Hoboken, NJ. There is an extended sequence where Stevens travels from NYC to NJ to deliver money and there are lots of great views of the drive. Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when they filmed a scene in a real subway tunnel. They were given oxygen and suicidal Inger Stevens at first refused the help because she wanted to die. Stevens committed suicide 12 years later at the age of 35.

Provocative and effective and with excellent pacing, Cry Terror! (1958) is a must-see for Film Noir fans.

Cry Terror! (1958) is an MGM film available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me this title for review!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ James Mason

James Mason, Cats

"Cats do not have to be shown how to have a good time, for they are unfailing ingenious in that respect."- James Mason

James Mason loved cats.

His wife Pamela Mason also loved cats.

Together they had lots of cats. In 1946, they had 12!


James Mason liked to draw his cats.

He and his wife even wrote a book about their cats entitled The Cats in Our Lives which was published in 1949. They later published a fiction anthology entitled Favorite Cat Stories of Pamela and James Mason.

James Mason loved cats. It's as simple as that.

Thank you to both Kate Gabrielle and Terry for the tip about James Mason! Terry has a write-up of Mason's hobby on his blog A Shroud of Thoughts  and Kate shared some of Mason's cat drawings on her blog Silents and Talkies.

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

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