Although suspended during the war, the early 1950s had seen motor
racing take-off in a big way and British drivers Stirling Moss and Mike
Hawthorn were becoming well known around the country, racing in the
Formula 1 series still popular today. Hammer Studios were still a
B-picture studio at the time, shooting a variety of support features to
fill the legal quota of domestic films shown in British cinemas at the
time. As with most of their productions in the early 1950s, Mask of Dust was based on a radio play, itself based on the 1952 novel The Last Race.
Wells (Richard Conte) is a veteran racing driver, but his career is on
the rocks after two years of bad luck and his wife, Patricia, wants him
to quit before he gets killed. However, Peter is determined not to quit
and be remembered only for a few years of bad driving so is determined
to win the next race, but after his friend is involved in a fatal
accident, Peter retires from the race to be with him at the hospital.
His manager is furious and threatens to fire him, his wife threatens to
leave him but he knows that he has to win the next race, the gruelling
Piedmont Grand Prix...
plot is no more than a standard love story worked around action
sequences - like you would see in most sports or war films, but it works
pretty well here. The romantic scenes are kept to a minimum and in a
rare turn of events, the team manager is actually a realistically
sympathetic character concerned for his driver's safety as well as his
team. For a film based mostly around the two feature races there is
some decent characterisation, but a lot of characters, like Wells'
arrogant co-driver, don't get enough screentime to establish
themselves. With its short run-time, the film doesn't drag despite the
slow pacing and the tension is built up strongly for the final race and
a good climax.
Director Terence Fisher joined Hammer studios in
1952 and had become one of their top directors, shooting a variety of
B-pictures from noirish crime films to sci-fi pictures Spaceways (1953) and Four Sided Triangle
(1953). His preferred style, long tracking shots and no 'fancy
shooting', is in evidence in the studio scenes here (among the first
shot on Hammer's Bray Studio sets). Impressively, the mixture of stock
and specially filmed motor racing sequences are very well mixed with
character footage, and the use of radio commentators to stitch it all
together is nicely done. Unlike the massively budgeted Grand Prix
(1966), the actors here only drive thanks to rear-projection which
doesn't look as good, but is only used for brief shots so doesn't
stand-out too much. Ultimately, the use of stock footage has its
limitations, and we get a lot of repeated shots, and the lack of
footage of a big crash, key to the plot, is strange when lots of
other crash scenes are shown.
Conte was brought in from America by the
film's co-producer/distributor and looks very good as the film's
hero while the rest of the cast are decent. More interesting is the
presence of legendary British racing driver Stirling Moss in a brief
cameo scene and an uncredited appearance of BBC sports commentator
Raymond Baxter announcing the first race.
Forsaking plot for racing scenes, Mask of Dust
is a very interesting look at a bygone era of motor racing when rules
and safety were at a minimum and drivers really did put their lives on
the line in every race. Motor Racing fans should enjoy this film, there
are two very long racing sequences with lots of geniune footage from
the 1953 season as well as specially shot scenes at Goodwood. Hammer fans might be interested
in this because of the presence of Terence Fisher in the director's
chair, but with much of the film taken up with stock-footage, he
doesn't get too much of a chance to show off.
Anyone famous in it?
Conte - an American actor who also starred in The Godfather (1973)
Directed by anyone interesting?
Terence Fisher - Hammer's top director who shot most of their top horror films.
Who is it for?
Fans of motor racing should enjoy this, and an interesting watch for fans of the pre-horror Hammer films.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White. The
print is of a decent quality, slightly soft and with lots of
speckling. The racing footage is not of a noticeably lower quality.
English language original mono sound. Clear for the most part but with some background crackling and occasional drop-outs.
Feature: 1hr 14m 50s (PAL)
The disc includes:
original British newsreels covering motor-racing, the British Grand
Prix, BRM race win and a Stirling Moss retrospective. Print Quality is
good. (4m 29s)
24 page booklet about the film, and motor-racing of the time.
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
The plot takes second place to some well editing and exciting racing scenes to provide an interesting look into history.
Decent quality print, although with some damage to print and audio. Booklet and newsreels are interesting, but light extras.