As James Mason's star power was ascending in Britain during the forties, the actor decided to branch out a bit and produced a handful of films, starting with The Upturned Glass, which he co-produced with Sydney Box.
Probably inspired by the huge success of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), the granddaddy of psychological thrillers, actress/scriptwriter Pamela Mason (aka Pamela Kellino) took John P. Monaghan's story and fashioned a very wonky story that has a brilliant neurosurgeon (James Mason) giving lectures on the criminal behaviour, and using his own involvement with a charity case (Ann Stephens) as an example of how a lean, rational mind that loses stability when illicit love with a young girl's mother (Rosamund John) enters the picture.
Of course, he doesn't admit to the class that the case study is himself, but exactly why a surgeon is talking to a university class about criminal behaviour is never explained, and the big twist – while surprising – is equally odd because elements discussed in the lecture would ultimately incriminate the surgeon; unless he has a devil-may-care attitude or is bent on revenge regardless of the consequences, he simply shouldn't be talking so candidly about a case that's easily traceable to a recent patient of his.
Mason easily sells his character, and the budding romance between the surgeon and the mother of the girl whose sight he recently restored is very believable – making the revenge quest all the more potent. What's surprising is the script's economy, since we never see the spouses of the two lovers, but their inclusion in any form would've been perfunctory, and taken time away from Kate (Pamela Mason), the loathsome money-hungry sister-in-law who Mason believes killed his lover, and is poised to take over the estate and ruin the life of a young girl.
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Strangely, Kate's guilt in the staged suicide of her sister-in-law is never really confirmed, making the film's final reel both highly engrossing – Mason eventually saves a girl's life while a cadaver lies poorly covered in the back seat of his tiny car – and frustrating, because rather than celebrate the completion of his revenge, the life he just saved reminds him of his once-noble role in society. Steeped with guilt, he literally takes a flying leap over the cliffs of Dover , and the film comes to an abrupt close.
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Lawrence Huntington's direction is fairly steady if not undistinguished, and Bernard Stevens' score (one of only three feature films) occasionally beats the listener with excessive melodrama, but it's still a fairly engaging noir score.
MPI's DVD, Classic British Thrillers, features a transfer from a decent print, but the PAL to NTSC conversion is a bit uneven, although Mason's sped-up voice in the flashback narration may be a flaw in the original film mix. A major downside is the heavy compression and noise filtration applied to clean up the print while making it fit with the DVD's two other feature-length films. Dark shadows are smearish, and foggy shots have an annoying pulse.
Unlike the other titles in this omnibus - Michael Powell's Red Ensign (1934), and The Phantom Light (1935) – The Upturned Glass is a true thriller, although it's hardly a classic. Definitely worth a peek, and sure to please Mason's fans.
Mason's subsequent producing efforts are Lady Possessed (1952) and Charade (1953), with the latter directed by former cinematographer Roy Kellino ( The Phantom Light ), Pamela Mason's ex-hubbie. Bigger Than Life (1956) followed, along with Hero's Island (1962), and Michael Powell's Age of Consent (1969).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan