James Mason did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is unique for a Disney live action film for the time with its several high profile actors of the time appearing in it such Paul Lukas as the inquisitive professor Arounax, a charming and enjoyable Kirk Douglas as the harpooner Ned Land, as well as a very likable Peter Lorre in a very unPeter Lorre like role as the Professor's assistant. The most important of all though is James Mason as the Captain of the underwater submarine Nautilus who seems to be clearly as brilliant as they come, but the only problem is he might also be just about as mad as they come as well.
Live action Disney films certainly can have some hokey acting just watch Maurice Chevalier's performance in In Search of the Castaways for evidence of that, this is one film though where there is none of that certainly not in the lead performance of Nemo by Mason. James Mason is easily one of my favorite actors and one of the reasons why is he almost always seems to put his all in his performance no matter what the film he showed in his more Oscar favorable fair with his nominated performance in A Star is Born, yes and I do know that this film in fact won more Oscars than that one but I mean in terms of Oscar favored acting, and he shows the same conviction in this performance.
James Mason makes a great impression of the very first scenes where Captain Nemo appears. Mason with an absolute ease conveys the mystery of the character. Mason unique extremely refined persona and voice is perfect for Nemo. Although it is rather easy to argue that Nemo is the villain of the film, Mason never does portray him for a moment as one. Mason actually delves deeper into the character always trying to bring to life the motivation of the man rather than just his actions as a lesser performance might have done. Mason always makes Nemo a man rather than a monster.
Mason makes Nemo into a fascinating anomaly of a man. In the way he speaks about his discoveries and his knowledge about technology that can only be fathomed at best by others at the time. Mason is excellent in conveying the wondrous nature of Nemo's own mind and that he is very much a man of discovery. There though at the same time is an undercurrent of menace, the sort of menace only James Mason could convey so quietly yet so effectively. Mason is able to even in his moments of speaking about his vast accomplishments, is able to bring to life so well the darker undercurrent behind the character.
The dark undercurrent is of course his own origin which involved death and brutal torture in his past. Mason especially excels here as he shows the incredible hate that is always weighing on Nemo's mind. It is really this hate for the inhumanity of man. Mason effectively portrays it as something that Nemo merely cannot shake, by creating a haunting quality within his performance that conveys that Nemo never can forget what has happened to him, and it is that drives his violent passions behind his current mission. Mason never makes this anger a simple evil, but actually a very humanizing element to Nemo.
In the most pivotal moments really of his performance Mason is able to bring to life perfectly the drive that creates the hate in Nemo. Although most of the time it is, as I said, something that is always a part of him but not something he likes to dwell on too much that is except for one scene where Nemo crashes purposefully through a ship from the country that had previously enslaved him. Mason is excellent here as he in a silent scene for Nemo shows the full extent of bitterness in Nemo. It is a striking moment for Mason because all of the proper gentlemanly aspect of Nemo goes away for a moment, and we see the true humanity in Nemo through his anger.
I should also really say that Mason also gives a very entertaining performance that goes hand in hand with his surprisingly character driven performance. Mason is always an extremely likable actor, and it really is just a joy to watch him particularly in a few of the smaller scenes of conversation. Mason here has again a great wit in the role that is extremely well utilized. He of course never hammers it in or very tries to be funny when it is not required. In fact Mason never really appears like he really is trying to be funny, Mason though is able to be humorous in just the right moments of this performance that never once compromise the heavier moments in his performance.
This is a truly great performance by James Mason that is able to bring to life every aspect of the character to the screen, and I must imagine do far more with the role than perhaps the filmmakers even expected. I have to say that I find he is even better here than even in his strong work in his Oscar nominated role from this year. Mason is simple incredible and just fascinating in every one of his scenes in this film. He is able to take an iconic character like Captain Nemo and basically create his very own form of that icon through his performance. In what easily could have been a corny performance, Mason once again shows his strength of an actor by seeming to make the most out of any role he is given.