DATELINE: Partial Classic Movie!
Mason holds gun on Bronson.
Usually you can tell when James Mason, grand star of the past, took on roles for the money. He once told mega-movie critic Pauline Kael that these sort of films were candidates for the “ashcan.”
While traversing latest streaming lists of old movies now available, we came across something called Cold Sweat from 1970. It appeared to be a routine Charles Bronson crime thriller. It dated from before Death Wish, which meant it presented Bronson in a less iconic and caricatured role.
As the credits rolled, as there was no trailer, the shock value increased. Though Amazon Prime listed the costar as Jill Ireland, Bronson’s wife, the film’s leading lady was Liv Ullmann, fresh off her think-piece and highly acclaimed Ingmar Bergmann art house classics.
Good grief, she plays Jill Ireland in this film! Well, you might as well bring in Laurence Olivier to play Jimmy Olson, cub reporter. Of course, Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland shows up as villain Captain Ross’s girlfriend Moira to round out the lunacy.
Sure enough, the third name on the film belongs to James Mason. Yikes. And what is more, the film was based on a Richard Matheson novel: yes, the man who gave us The Incredible Shrinking Man and so many other classic stories. This was his adventure story, Ride the Nightmare. It is not vintage Matheson.
When Mason showed up in the story, first in a shadowy flashback as a younger man a dozen years earlier, he only makes a background cameo. He is the leader of a villainous gang of prison escapees.
He also plays an American and a Southerner. Yikes, and double yikes. You mean you won’t have Mason doing what he does so well: a modulated, upper-crusty bad guy sucking each line like it’s a morsel of his last meal.
That usually signaled that James Mason was doing a walk-through in what he considered a meritless movie. Here, he dons a blue sailor cap with the rim pulled down. He also pulls down every other word in what appears to be an Alabama twang via Oxford.
Nevertheless, it is an unknown Bronson film with James Mason, Liv Ullmann, Jill Ireland, and a story by Richard Matheson. You could do worse, though Mason and Ullmann were not happy on this movie set, nor with Bronson, until the paychecks arrived.