Actor James Mason was a big star in England before coming to the United States in the early 1950s. One of his first films – though thankfully for him not the first film- that he worked on was 1952’s Lady Possessed, a film he also produced and co-wrote with his wife Pamela. The film was based on the novel Del Palma which was also written by his wife.
Mason, perhaps best know for his iconic voice and portrayal of rather brooding and downcast types, found himself tripped up several times during his career with fallout as a result of his married life. For example, after taking a part in the panned 1975 film Mandingo, he admitted that he knew the production was garbage but had only taken the part because he was behind in alimony payments. Critic Roger Ebert at the time quipped, “Surely jail would have been better.”
Lady Possessed as well was perhaps inspired by his wife given its close association with her (she also has a slight role in it). James Mason plays singer Jimmy Del Palma, who as the film opens is removing his ill wife from the hospital out of frustration with the care she’s been getting, only to have her pass away shortly thereafter.
Distraught, Jimmy sells his house to Jean and Tom Wilson (June Havoc and Stephen Dunne, respectively). The Wilson’s are the perfect picture of marital bliss, but soon after moving in Jean begins to form a close connection with the spirit of the deceased Mrs. Del Palma. Part of this is due to the fact that the only thing moved out of the house was Mr. Del Palma himself.
As time passes Jean become’s more and more in sync with the dear departed, at one point even having a dream in which she assumes her role. Thing progress in a herky jerky fashion as her friend Sybil (Pamela Mason) encourages her to set up a seance with a medium in an attempt to reach Mrs. Del Palma’s spirit. By some odd luck they manage to get Jimmy himself to attend the service. In one of the more dramatic sequences of the film he leans menacingly over the table yelling at the medium that he doesn’t believe in all the hocum they are spewing before finally flipping over the table over in a rage and departing.
Stranger still Jimmy strikes up a relationship with Jean, and eventually she agrees to leave her husband and go on tour with him in Europe. Strangely, the fact that she’s living in his old house or that she’s married don’t come up until well on into the relationship, throwing another wrench into the already lurching proceedings.
But first we have to backtrack just a bit as one of the original reasons June was trying to meet Jimmy- in addition to thinking she is Mrs. Del Palma back from the dead- was to deliver a letter she found. It’s written by his wife and was never given to him. What on earth could it say?
Finally, just before going on for his last stateside show and the beginning of his European tour, Jimmy reads the note. In a stupor, he wanders to the stage and performs a brief dirge on the piano while the words of the letter fill his mind. This scene is definitely James Mason’s most dramatic in the entire affair and tries hard to rescue the film, but just comes up a bit short. After a few minutes he closes the show and leaves, heading to June.
In a rage he tells her where she he now thinks of her (it isn’t good) and leaves perhaps hotter than he arrived. June returns to Tom with apparently no repercussions for anything.
Whew! What could have with a lot of work been an entertaining film falls relatively flat. The cast outside of James Mason himself is pretty flat and unengaged. Patricia Mason’s character is surely inserted just for some family vanity as it serve no real purpose.
As Jimmy, Mason has two excellent scenes, with those being the seance and the final performance where his moody gravitas nearly lifts the film above the “plot jambalaya” that swirls around it. Just don’t look to closely during the short performances. They are clearly dubbed but the voice has no similarity to Mason’s, but the intercutting of some almost spoken-word interludes is moderately effective. In any case, it’s definitely his show and he knows it.
June Havoc is given a lot to do but most of it makes little sense. Is she possessed or or simply obsessed or perhaps something of a celebrity stalker just looking to meet the flashy Mr. Del Palma? We never learn what is driving her forward or what happens to these folks.
What was it in the letter that pushed Jimmy over the line? Though we won’t share the contents of it (in the extremely rare chance you see this one), it doesn’t seem like anything that untowards. Yet in spite of this he threatens to kill Jean. Very odd.
In a last odd twist the film is directed by Roy Kellino, a close friend of the Masons. So close that he was actually Patrica’s ex-husband at the time of filming. Though she was already married to James at the time she’s still billed as Patricia Kellino. James Mason had moved in with the Kellino’s previously and at the end of the day Patricia had exchanged the men in her life, though all three continued to share the same home.
Lady Possessed is a film that’s hard to find and will most likely stay that way as there isn’t much to recommend it outside of James Mason’s performance, though even that get overwhelmed by a disjointed plot.