Tag Archives: James Mason

Murder by Decree (1979)

It can be a strange thing these days: some actors either play a role so many times or play it so effectively once that it becomes nearly impossible to fill the shoes, impossible to recast the role or to even imagine recasting the role. The former scenario – where an actor owns a role by performing it over multiple films – is more and more common now that the shared universe and neverending saga models are actually viable. Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman had the advantage of being the first to play Tony Stark and Wolverine in their respective franchises, but it’s still damn difficult to imagine what those cinema characters will look like ten years from now once Messrs. Downey and Jackman age out of the parts.

The latter camp – those who own a role after only a single performance – is more interesting, at least when the role we’re considering is that of Sherlock Holmes. The great deerstalker-capped detective has been played by hundreds of actors onscreen, notably by the likes of Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, Roger Moore (in Sherlock Holmes in New York), and the aforementioned Downey Jr. in the most recent feature adaptations. Peter O’Toole voiced the character in a series of animated shorts in the early ’80s, Ian McKellen will portray him in 2015’s Mr. Holmes, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sexy Holmes in the BBC show Sherlock. Jeremy Brett’s decade in the role spanning four separate series is certainly one of the most interesting turns – Brett’s health declined noticeably as each series progressed, and his time in the role ended up charting a tragic bearing through his final years.

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Hero’s Island (1962)

Long before James Mason was cast in the role of Stodgy Old Man in every movie ever, he once played Young Hunk in Hero’s Island. This somehow has nothing to do with his age – Mason was 53 when he played the island-bound Jacob Weber, which is far older than today’s Young Hunk standards – and instead has everything to do with Mason being one hell of an actor. In fact, he appeared as Humbert Humbert in Kubrick’s Lolita in the same year, a role which definitely leans more toward Stodgy Old Man than toward Young Hunk. One can imagine a remake of Hero’s Island casting Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans or Chris Pratt – basically any of the Marvel Superhero Chrises – in the role of the brawny Jacob, sandy hair and strategically tattered shirt and all. This would be an entirely different kind of film (Superhero’s Island) because Mason’s Jacob is hunky, sure – but is he a hero?

Set on Bull Island in 1719, we meet the Mainwaring Family as they arrive on their new waterlocked home. The deed in Father Mainwaring’s hand entitles him to ownership of Bull Island, but standing on the dirt for the first time he states with a sense of wonder that “it doesn’t feel that I own this”. Ownership, of course, is entirely a matter of opinion – and in the opinion of the fisherman who’ve lounged around the island for years, the “right” of the Mainwaring Family’s presence is no right at all. They’re essentially Crusoe’s savages in the context of Hero’s Island, though their depiction in the opening scenes hews closer to this comparison than their actual function once the film is fully fleshed out. One of the first things the Mainwaring Family sees to is the construction of a large cross, which they kneel and pray in front of once it stands tall. The “savage” fisherman watch from afar, and before we hear them say anything more than a few words we see them bless themselves with the sign of the cross upon seeing the Christian symbol rising from their dirt.

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