Mask of Dust (1954)

Terence Fisher directs Richard Conte in an exciting mix of drama and motor racing from Hammer Films. DD-Video R2 DVD.

The Film

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.

Peter 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...

The 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.

Richard 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.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Richard 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.
Any violence/gore? None.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Fans of motor racing should enjoy this, and an interesting watch for fans of the pre-horror Hammer films.


Visuals 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.
Audio English language original mono sound. Clear for the most part but with some background crackling and occasional drop-outs.
Subtitles None.
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 14m 50s (PAL)
Extras The disc includes:

  • 3 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 Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? None known.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 12th July 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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