January 2, 2017


Herbert Mason (1891-1960) b. Birmingham, England.

A nephew of the great Shakespearian actress Ellen Terry, this Briton was really a man of the theatre, but emerged unexpectedly as the director of several major British pictures in the late 1930s. An actor at 16, Mason later became an actor-manager and stage-managed many big London shows in the 1920s. With the coming of sound, he interested himself in the cinema, busying himself at varying tasks for Gaumont-British Studios, including production and assistant direction. In 1936, he made his first film, The First Offence (1936), a crime thriller with the young John Mills, and was consequently put in charge of two of the last star vehicles of doyen British actor George Arliss, home from his Oscar winning exploits in Hollywood, and soon to retire. Mason’s revue experience stood him in good stead when he proved the most efficient director of a Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge musical comedy, Take My Tip (1937), in which one or two of Hulbert’s dance routines are beautifully staged and for precision almost rival those of Astaire. Perhaps Mason’s most interesting film from this period, however, is A Window in London (1939), a dark and disturbing circular drama, from a French original, about a man who thinks he sees a murder while travelling past a house on a train. The feeling of faint unease that Mason engenders throughout the film is very skilfully done. His films of the 1940s are on the whole of a lighter nature, including Back Room Boy (1942), an amusing Arthur Askey comedy set in a lighthouse. Later Mason returned to production activities, notably with John Grierson‘s Group Three Productions, but it would have been more interesting to see him pursue the directorial career he gave up in his mid-fifties.

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