I felt a real sense of discovery watching the British film HELL DRIVERS tonight at the 15th Annual Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood.
The movie has an incredible cast, terrific gritty atmosphere, and a rip-roaring, exciting plot. The climactic action sequence is brilliantly staged, evoking gasps from the audience. I had a thoroughly good time watching this film and look forward to seeing it again at some point. I'd especially like to share it with my sons as I suspect they would really enjoy it.
Stanley Baker plays Tom Yately, an ex-con desperate for a job. He takes a dangerous job transporting gravel for a company that expects its drivers to careen down country roads and rural highways at breakneck speeds to make their daily delivery quota; little do the men know that the dangeous practices allow the manager (William Hartnell, the first DR. WHO) and another employee to skim extra money out of the company and into their own pockets.
Tom is attracted to the trucking company's secretary, Lucy (Peggy Cummins, GUN CRAZY) but is reluctant to act on his feelings, as Gino (Herbert Lom), the nicest driver at the company, hopes to marry Lucy.
Tom's younger brother is played by David McCallum of THE MAN FROM UNCLE and NCIS, while a local waitress is played by 20-year-old Jill Ireland. The Egyptian Theatre audience spontaneously applauded when McCallum first came on screen.
The rough drivers also include Johnny (Sean Connery), Scottie (Gordon Jackson of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS), and the deranged lead driver Red (Patrick McGoohan). Watching these men careen around corners as though they're NASCAR drivers by day, then brawling by night, makes for a highly watchable film. McGoohan in particular is remarkable; he drips pure evil, causing the viewer to hope that he'll ultimately receive his comeuppance...
I was unfamiliar with Baker, but he's excellent in a charismatic performance which slightly evokes the young Brando of ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). Tom made a mistake but is determined never to go to jail again, even when it means ducking out on a fight at a dance to avoid encountering the police -- which causes his coworkers to taunt him as a "yellowbelly." I loved the dance sequence, which has some great British atmosphere; that said, it was fascinating how many American brands -- including, of course, Coca-Cola -- can be spotted on screen throughout the film.
HELL DRIVERS was directed by Cy Endfield, who also directed the first film shown tonight, TRY AND GET ME (1950). The movie was shot in great-looking, gritty black and white VistaVision by Geoffrey Unsworth. The film runs 101 minutes.
This film is available in Europe on Region 2 DVD. It has not been released on DVD or VHS in the United States, but it's available to Amazon Prime members for streaming at no extra charge.
I'll be returning to Noir City Sunday evening for REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) and HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948).