James Mason received his third and final Oscar nomination for portraying Ed Concannon in The Verdict.
Well it is most certainly true that one can be nominated for an entirely unimpressive and unsubstantial performance, Mason though as with Scott managed to show how a great actor can make the most out of just about any sort of role if they actually bother to try. It is just interesting to look at the differences and similarities between Scott and Mason in the ways they both managed to succeed in their roles, and make a substantial impact in their film despite the technical limitations of their part.
Where Scott was more demanding, and intense as his prosecutor, Mason portrays his slick attorney as a relatively quite man but one who like Scott's character is absolutely always in control of his situation. Mason though always presents Ed Concannon as an always prepared man who examines every situation so he doesn't need to get loud or angry, he is in charge because he has determined that he is in charge. Mason always shows with cold efficiency that there is a calculated procedure Concannon takes to everything involved with a case.
Mason has such a great ease in his performance that it makes him a more than just a rival to Paul Newman's Frank Galvin, but in fact makes him seem like his legal superior. Mason for most of the film has complete control in his scenes, and so calmly lays down plan and actions in every scene with just the right degree of smug superiority. Mason never shows Concannon to be an idiot when it comes to his superior manner and tone, but rather something he has earned his right to use from his long standing history as a lawyer.
Mason is particularly excellent in his scenes of cross examination, since he really does not have a harsh intense attitude, but rather is always polite, even though Mason shows almost a fiendish quality in this calm approach that through his slowly but eloquently put questions he is always carefully tearing into them. I particularly like when Concannon basically harasses a witness, and accuses her of lying, yet he does it with such calm reserve he actually seems even more piercing because of this.
Mason is terrific in every moment he needs to show just how smart, and effective Ed Concannon is creating an almost overwhelming obstacle for Galvin to fight, but my favorite moment in his performance is when he is at a loss for words in a single scene. Mason's reaction is absolutely perfect when Concannon finally is truly surprised by something he hadn't planned for, and Mason shows a vulnerability in this single scene where it Concannon can barely understand that there something has occurred that he has not planned for, simply a terrific moment that perfectly shows a sign of weakness in Concannon.
This is a great performance by Mason who takes what he has an makes the absolute most of it. It would have been very easy to actually have had Concannon be an nonentity in the film, but instead just like George C. Scott in Anatomy of Murder he turns Concannon into a formidable court room villain. His performance here puts to shame other performances that just settle in their roles and never attempt bring more life to the part. This is a brilliant realization of what an actor can do with a character even when the character is limited.