GOLDEN MASK (South of Algiers)(director: Jack Lee; screenwriter: Robert Westerby; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editor: Vladimir Sagovsky; music: Robert Gill; cast: Van Heflin (Nicholas Chapman), Wanda Hendrix (Anne Burnet), Eric Portman (Doctor Burnet), Charles Goldner (Petris), Jacques François (Jacques Farnod), Jacques B. Brunius (Jacques B. Brunius), George Pastell (Hassan) Jacques B. Brunius (Kress), Marne Maitland (Thankyou), Marie-France (Yasmin), Messaoud (Abdel), Alec Mango (Mahmoud), Samia Hakim (Dancer); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: not rated; producers: Aubrey Baring/Maxwell Setton; UA; 1953)
“Hunting for lost tombs is always a risky business in films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This schoolboy adventure tale was first released in Great Britain under the title of South of Algiers, a year later it was released in the States as Golden Mask. It was filmed on location in Algiers, as the story involves a search in North Africa for the tomb of a Roman general involved in the Punic wars, who was buried with an invaluable golden mask.
The sweeping desert photography by acclaimed cinematographer Oswald Morris was stunning. Adding to the positive nature of the film were the literate script by Robert Westerby and Jack Lee’s crisp direction. Van Heflin was recruited for the part because of his success in Shane from the previous year, and his presence would be certain to add box office clout. Wanda Hendrix, the lead female, retired after finishing this film and marrying Robert Stack’s older brother. When they divorced, she returned to work in mostly TV roles. She was also briefly married to Audie Murphy. Her performance didn’t help or hinder the story, as the breezy Van Heflin and the stuffy Eric Portman dominate the screen with their contrasting styles and provide the film’s most exciting performances.
Hunting for lost tombs is always a risky business in films. In “Golden Mask,” a renown ancient scholar connected with the British Museum, Dr. Burnet (Portman), doesn’t have enough money to pay an archaeologist needed for his latest expedition to Tunis; but, he is told by the museum curator that a hotshot American best-selling writer of archaeology books, Nicholas Chapman (Van Heflin), is willing to work for nothing as long as he’s free to use the material discovered for his next book and possible magazine articles. Though suspicious of Chapman’s integrity and ability, he agrees to take him along. On the same flight from London to Tunis are the fortune hunters Kress (Brunius) and his boss Dr. Petris (Goldner), who also desire the mask. They intend to make a million bucks by selling it to investors, while Burnet’s aim is to bring it back to the museum for history’s sake.
In Tunis, Burnet hooks up with two others on his expedition, his college-aged daughter Anne (Wanda Hendrix) and her ancient scholar boyfriend Jacques Farnod (Jacques François). His father is curator of the museum in Tunis. Jacques is a nice lad but he’s not too forward, as the brash Chapman makes it known he’s attracted to the perky Anne even though she’s at first put off by his cheekiness. Her father throws them together and so she’s forced to take the energetic Chapman on a sightseeing tour, where they see the Roman ruins of an aqueduct and Carthage. At night he goes nightclubbing and is entranced by the local belly dancer (Samia Hakim), as Kress introduces himself and plies him with liquor and gets him an intro to the dancer. When he returns to his room, he finds it has been ransacked in the attempt to get at his maps.
Trekking across the Sahara by camel to the hard-to-find ancient spots where the tombs are secretly located proves dangerous, as a roof from a tomb enclosure almost collapses on them at one site. Also, the fortune hunters steal their tomb photographs and later on force Chapman to take them to the secret tomb, and aim to kill all the unarmed scientists to get their treasure. There are also dangers from the natural desert elements such as windstorms and the man-made dangers from murderous nomad bandits.
Chapman proves he’s not only a good guy, but is invaluable to the expedition and wins over all three of the others. Anne easily gives up her Jacques for Chapman, while Jacques graciously concedes he doesn’t mind losing her to such a nice guy. While old man Burnet remains focused on returning the treasure to the museum, but acknowledges he was wrong about Chapman not having the proper credentials and just being an exhibitionist.
The locale shots were peppered with scenes of the eccentric locals doing their native thing. Everything is played low-key. All that’s uncovered is commonplace in pics of tomb hunting (always a risky business in films)and cursed romances and legendary masks, but this one had spunk and that made for a fun watch.
REVIEWED ON 9/11/2002 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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