Saturday, May 26, 2012
A Race for Life (1954)
One gets used to the idea after a while that most movies labelled as film noir are labelled as such for the most dubious and tenuous of reasons. A Race for Life (original British title Mask of Dust) is a particularly good example. I can’t for the life of me find anything noirish about this one but it still managed to get released as part of VCI’s excellent Hammer Noir series.
This 1954 Hammer production, helmed by Terence Fisher, is a racing car thriller. Peter Wells (Richard Conte) had been a champion racing driver before the war. After distinguished service as a fighter pilot he returns to the track but bad luck now seems to dog his career. There is the suspicion that he has lost his edge, or even (worse still) that he has lost his nerve.
Also causing difficulties is his wife Patricia. She has this thing about not wanting to be a beautiful young widow. Peter can’t explain to her that he can’t quit now. It would mean quitting as a loser, and as he explains to a friend if he did that he’d be no use to any woman. It’s one of the things Women Don’t Understand.
When his friend “Pic” Dallapiccola announces that the coming race will be his last Peter does entertain the idea of giving the game away, but he’s determined to go out a winner. Just one last victory is all he asks. Both Peter and Pic are veterans and there’s a new generation of young guns coming up, men like Guido Rosetti. Guido is Peter’s team-mate. He’s the number two driver while Peter as the number one driver gets the best car. Guido feels, not without justification, that he should now have the number one spot. He’s convinced that Peter has lost his nerve, that he’s an old man who should now step aside.
Pic, Peter and Guido all desperately need to win this race but there can only be one winner and for Peter it’s both a race for life and a race against his old companion, Death. But death is the constant companion of all racing drivers.
There are no real villains here. Even Guido turns out to be a better man than anybody had imagined. This is I suppose a Guy Movie, a movie about friendship and heroism, about the need to face death in order to face life.
There are good performances from the supporting cast and if you look closely among the extras you’ll see such notable motor racing names as Stirling Moss. Mari Aldon as Patricia is adequate but it’s Richard Conte who makes this one worth seeing. He gives a nicely understated performance. Peter Wells is a man who has learned to hide his emotions but in fact he’s a very emotional man. He runs on his emotions.
The racing sequences are exciting enough and Fisher doesn’t let the action drag. The short running time helps. Unless you’re a very keen motor racing fan you can only take so much of this although the early 50s Grand Prix racing machines have a certain appeal.
A fairly slight film but reasonably enjoyable if this is a genre you happen to be fond of. Hammer’s early 50s movies were low-budget productions (low-budget even compared with their later gothic horror movies) made in association with Lippert Pictures and featuring imported American stars of the second rank who mostly (as in this case) gave fairly creditable performances. This is far from being one of their best efforts but if you accept it as a B-movie it’s not a total loss.
VCI gives us, as with all its Hammer Noir releases, gives us a very fine transfer with a few extras.