The Birthday Bell

For whom it tolls:

James Mason (1909-1984)

He of the distinctive voice (see Eddie Izzard’s impersonation of God, or, just see James Mason) and eyebrows, Yorkshireman, James Mason – born today. If you watch only one of his films (shame on you), here are two suggestions, just to be difficult:

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Tragic love story of an ill-fated couple who are bound to each other through the ages. A stranger and his yacht enter the port of Esperanza and the beautiful Pandora, whom is loved by all but loves none, finds herself inexplicably drawn to him. Centuries before, having killed the woman he loves, the Dutchman is sentenced to eternally wander the seas until a woman is ready to die for him… Watch out for Man Ray’s influence in the film – he painted the picture of Pandora and designed some of the set. The film is also notable for the legendary Jack Cardiff’s excellent cinematography. Oh, and of course, Ava Gardner, often described as the most beautiful woman in the world…


Lolita (1962)

How did they ever make a film of Lolita? So the poster reads. Mason plays Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s delicious tale of ‘wrong’ love between the teenage nymph, played by ’60s it girl Sue Lyon, and the middle-aged Professor Humbert. Iconic film with an exceptional cast – Shelley Winters, as Lolita’s jilted mother, gives one of the finest performances of her career.


Joseph Cotton (1905-1994)

Despite being in some of the greatest films of his day, Joseph Cotton isn’t as well-known as he should be. Perhaps he came across as too soft or gentle, too much of a ‘good guy’ for the studio execs, but he often played a supporting role: the friend; the good fellow who’s noticed something fishy going on; the jilted husband etc. But check these out:

Niagara (1952)

Brilliant thriller with seemingly innocent Marilyn Monroe as the deceiving wife. Certainly one of her finest roles. Watch out for the scene where she sings ‘Kiss’.


The Third Man (1949)

The ultimate film noir and one of the best films ever made. Ever. You haven’t seen a film until you’ve seen this one. That’s all I have to say about that. And it’s directed by Carol Reed and co-stars Orson Welles. That’s it. Based on the book by Graham Greene. Enough.