Five Fingers: James Mason Chooses the Right One

DATELINE: Classic Spy Drama

crossed Mason

What a joy to re-discover one of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s forgotten masterpieces!

Five Fingers came in-between so many other, better remembered films like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, All About Eve, and the Barefoot Contessa. In 1952, Mank went to Turkey to film the true story of World War II’s notorious spy who sold info to the Nazis. The Germans called him Cicero and were forced to pay him an exorbitant sum for his services, but distrusted him.

Bernard Herrmann supplied the music score.

Once again, Mank assembled the best actors: James Mason, Michael Rennie, and Danielle Darrieux. He had an ear and eye for top-quality British actors.

The Nazis think Mason is one of those arrogant members of the aristocracy. They know the type. In fact, Cicero is the valet to the British ambassador, a brilliant man who states: “The only thing that disgusts me is poverty.” When the head of British intelligence calls him the worst piece of trash, Mason shrugs: “I rather thought I looked like a gentleman.”

Only Mason can deliver lines with aplomb—and Mank gives him plenty of hilarious, cynical throwaways. Mason chews up great dialogue with a voracious appetite for screen fame. His inflections cannot be repeated by anyone.

Mason’s spy is not James Bond, but he makes mincemeat of Nazis and British authorities as he ultimately outsmarts them—his poverty-stricken countess partner and himself.

As a poor cabin boy, Mason’s Cicero once saw a man in a white dinner jacket, high up on his villa’s balcony overlooking the ocean. He was laughing hilariously. It is only at the end of the film, when Mason becomes the embodiment of his boyhood dream, do we find the biting irony of it.

What a movie!

 

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