Monday, February 13, 2012
Hell Drivers (1957)
This movie could without stretching definitions too far be described as an example of British film noir. There’s a hero haunted by mistakes in his past that he may not be able to escape, there’s corruption, there’s a femme fatale, there’s a sense of impending tragedy and a tense brooding fatalistic atmosphere. It’s not a crime movie as such but it does feature an ex-con and there are illegal goings-on.
Tom Yately (Stanley Baker) applies for a job as a short-haul lorry driver. He has a few problems with the interview. He can’t produce references because as he explains he’s been abroad. As we find out later he’s actually been in prison. Nevertheless he is given a test run and he gets the job.
The number one driver and road foreman for this firm is Red (Patrick McGoohan). He’s even rougher than the other drivers, a violent and reckless individual who is determined to stay number one and will use any methods necessary to do so. Tom and Red take an instant dislike to one another. In fact the only driver Tom likes is an Italian known as Gino (Herbert Lom).
There’s a kind of competition going among the drivers to complete the most runs in a day, with the prize being a very expensive gold cigarette case. It’s more a matter of prestige than the actual prize though. So far no-one has been able to beat Red’s record. Tom is determined to do so. The tensions between Red and Tom continue to mount for a variety of reasons and their rivalry becomes more and more intense and more and more dangerous. It finally becomes absolutely poisonous and potentially deadly.
Patrick McGoohan chews the scenery with great abandon and his approach proves to be the ideal counterpoint to Stanley Baker’s slow-burning tightly wound performance. Herbert Lom is entertaining as always. Peggy Cummins is dangerously sexy, a quality she was exceptionally good at conveying. Without exception the acting is superb.
The one false note is the subplot towards the end involving the wicked capitalist boss defrauding the noble down-trodden working-class. It gives the impression of being tacked on in an ill-advised attempt to add a political message, always a bad idea. It’s clumsy and quite unnecessary since the rest of the movie has already provided ample motivation for the characters’ actions.
Aside from one minor quibble this is a superb example of 1950s British film-making at its best.
The Region 4 DVD from Madman is a good widescreen print and includes a contemporary making-of documentary and an interview with Stanley Baker filmed in the late 50s. Highly recommended.