"He was staring trancelike at a spot sbout two hundred yards
farther along the track where an already dead man called
Isaac Jethou was being cremated in the white-flamed funeral pyre
of what had once been his Grand Prix Formula One racing car."
Alistair MacLean - The Way to Dusty Death
One-time motor racing legend Johnny Harlow (Simon MacCorkindale) is now nothing more than a washed up drunk, but the Coronado sports car racing team are desperate for someone to join to bring them back to winning form. He seems to be the ideal choice, but after being involved in a fatal accident he is not so sure about his own skills - until a mysterious woman brings him a video tape showing that his car had been tampered with and some digging reveals that something suspicious has been going on around the team. However, whoever is behind the "accident" has no intention of stopping now...
Writer Paul Wheeler and director Geoffrey Reeve had previously worked together on a duo of 1970s MacLean adaptations, the enjoyable but low budgeted Puppet on a Chain (1971) and the less impressive Caravan to Vaccares (1974) so with their third partnership being a television movie expectations are none too high. Fortunately the film retains the flavour of MacLean's (admittedly rather poor) book and as a trashy TV-movie is certainly enjoyable. Written in 1973, Way to Dusty Death is usually considered the be the beginning of the decline for Alistair MacLean and it is certainly a long way from his most impressive novels. Although retaining the basic theme of the novel (who would want to alter the idea of a racing car driver fighting killers and corruption?) a lot of the details have changed completely. The most obvious of these is the move from Formula 1 to a smaller sportscar racing field - although undoubtedly budget related, the move does make sense for the storyline as well - the 1990s F1 world was enormously more commercial and media driven than when MacLean's novel was written and the storyline would be implausible in such a setting.
More substantial changes are made to the supporting characters - young love interest Mary and her brother Rory are completely missing, team boss James MacAlpine gets unexpectedly killed off and Mrs MacAlpine instead becomes a major character. Harlow himself gets to do a lot less snooping and drinking but is now teamed up with an attractive Russian spy (!) and we get some interestingly different back story to his character. Running to almost two hours, with only a few action sequences and very few racing scenes, the film would have been well served with some trimming back to 90 minutes but it never really drags. Building up to a DTV action movie style finale which is rather more explosive than in the novel, it does fall a little short on exposition at the denouement and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Directing on an obviously low budget, Geoffrey Reeve does a commendable job and is helped by a carefully written script that keeps the action on a very small scale for most of the film - the few explosive effects are done well. As per MacLean's novel there are only a couple of short racing scenes, which are obviously specially filmed for the production and not just stock footage, with a very impressive crash sequence. The soundtrack is an odd mix of classical and modern music but it works well enough.
The essential ingredient for all B-movies, a reasonably well known American actor (or actress) for marquee (or video case) value, in this cast it is Linda Hamilton who takes top billing in a quite undemanding role as Mrs MacAlpine. British character actor Simon MacCorkindale plays the lead, although not really convincing as a washed up drunk at the film's start, he plays the role with relish for the rest of the film. The rest of the cast is a selection of relative unknown, mostly English character actors - there are a few recognisable faces and the performances are good enough to keep things moving.
Not MacLean's best book and not the best film he inspired, The Way to Dusty Death is an unpretentious little television movie with some enjoyable action scenes and not a bad way to waste two hours but will probably only appeal to MacLean completists.
|Anyone famous in it?||Linda Hamilton - well worked American actress best known as the original Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)
Simon MacCorkindale - British actor who also starred in the classic adventure The Riddle of the Sands (1979)
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Geoffrey Reeve - a little known British director also behind the similarly low budgeted Alistair MacLean adaptations Puppet on a Chain (1971) and Caravan to Vaccares (1974)|
|Any gore or violence ?||Nothing vivid.|
|Any sex or nudity?||A very brief topless shot (would be cut off in a matted widescreen print).|
|Who is it for?||Fans of the novel and trashy TV-movies should enjoy this. Not really a motorsport film.|
|Visuals||Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
The print is decent with good colours but lack of detail makes it feel more like a good VHS print.
(Although made for television, it does appear to have been filmed with widescreen matting in mind and there is plenty of head-room)
|Audio||English stereo. Sounds good throughout.|
|Subtitles||Norweigan and Danish - optional.|
|Region||Region 0 (ALL) - PAL|
|Availability||Released in Denmark - DVD Title: Dødens Støv.|
|Other regions?||An identical disc released in Norway.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. Titles and credits are in English.|