James Mason in the 1970s: Lost histories - late-career mainstream stars working in exploitation cinema

Sarah Thomas

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Critical histories of established star performers associated with mainstream cinema move towards a mournful tone as they chart the end of their subjects’ lives. Inevitably illness and death are two reasons for this, but another is the value judgement about the type of films made by an actor at the end of their career, as – seemingly – a once successful star is reduced to the ignominy of appearing in low-quality exploitation cinema.
If the exploration of exploitation cinema as an alternative history is at the forefront of new research challenging established taste cultures based around the dominance of mainstream cinemas, then further investigation of the relationship between this cinematic form and its use of late-career major stars is required. Whilst this can be framed through a discussion of cult status, re-positioning this topic within changing boundaries of film historiography, global cinema and cinematic labour is also beneficial. By examining historical approaches to exploitation cinema, another critical history that has been hitherto been dismissed can be uncovered, that of late-career star labour in non-mainstream films.
To illustrate this, this paper will explore the career of James Mason during the 1970s. During this time, Mason appeared in a number of low-budget, multinational exploitation films that have been overlooked in biographical accounts of his work. Mason’s career has been critically re-evaluated to recognise the significant role he has played in film history: as a symbol of national identity in British cinema of the 1940s and reviewing his status from failed émigré star to culturally acclaimed actor in auteurist films of 1950s Hollywood. And yet his later career as a character actor in European co-productions remains an unexplored footnote, lacking in critical commentary and historical importance. My aims are to challenge this historical taste culture through a consideration of exploitation cinema, Mason’s acting labour on and off screen and other relevant historical contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventGlobal Exploitation Cinemas - University of Lincoln, Lincoln, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Duration: 28 May 201530 May 2015


ConferenceGlobal Exploitation Cinemas
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Period28 May 201530 May 2015


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