Hell Drivers (Blu-ray)

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Hell Drivers (Blu-ray)

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Review of "Hell Drivers (Blu-ray)"

published 30/03/2017 | hogsflesh
Member since : 19/04/2010
Reviews : 827
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Not as much time as I'd like for ciao at the moment.
Excellent
Pro Great film, great picture quality, great extras
Cons Slight glitch on the menu, poor picture quality on most extras
exceptional
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"Roaring Down the World's Deadliest Roads!"

Stanley Baker, all rugged and that

Stanley Baker, all rugged and that

This Blu-ray from Network is £15 on amazon or HMV, but at time of writing is a more-than-reasonable £10 on Network’s own site, with free postage.

Hell Drivers is a tremendous British thriller from 1957 about short haul lorry drivers ferrying gravel around. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like the most exciting premise for a film, but it sure as heck works. It may well have been inspired by The Wages of Fear (1953), a classic French thriller about drifters and ne’er-do-wells driving trucks laden with explosives through the jungle in South America.

Year: 1957
Director: Cy Endfield
Stars: Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Sean Connery
More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051713
IMDB user rating: 7.2

Tom is fresh out of prison. He gets a job as a truck driver making runs between quarry and depot. Drivers have to make at least 12 trips a day, on pain of dismissal, and the more trips they make, the more they earn, speed limit be buggered. Tom is befriended by the Italian driver Gino and finds himself flirting with the secretary, Lucy. He also incurs the wrath of thuggish head driver Red, who jealously guards his daily record of 18 trips.

Which still doesn’t really sound all that exciting. The actual thriller elements aren’t really all that prominent, apart from the climactic scenes of the film. It’s a bit too obvious that the footage of the trucks has been sped up, and there aren’t that many near-misses or crashes to enjoy. But the slow-burn rivalry between Tom and Red, and the simmering undertow of violence, keep you interested. As does the cast.

The star is Stanley Baker, a tough-guy Welsh actor who made some very good films in his time. He’s got a great lantern-jawed bruiser face, but with sensitive, little-boy eyes. He’s a more than adequate actor within a certain range, and he carries the film well – he’s sympathetic without ever seeming like he’s trying to be.

Red, his arch-rival, is played by Patrick McGoohan (later the star of The Prisoner on TV) in a masterful display of over-acting. He walks in a weird, hunched way, has a cigarette clamped between his teeth at all times, and has a fascinating collection of scars. It’s a crazily mannered performance, but it works fantastically well in the context – he is spectacularly nasty.

The love interest is played by Peggy Cummings, star of Hollywood noir classic Gun Crazy and Brit horror classic Night of the Demon. She’s good, but she and Baker have one of those weird romances where he keeps insulting her for her supposed promiscuity and she just loves him all the more for it. Which is probably a tactic favoured by youtube pickup artists, but it’s surely unlikely to work in real life.

The cast is full of familiar faces. Gino is played by Herbert Lom, in one of the only sympathetic parts I’ve seen him play. He imbues the character with quiet pathos (the only character who is treated with any real sentimentality), and his accent isn’t too dodgy. William Hartnell is on great, brusque form as the corrupt boss. Wilfrid Lawson is a wonderfully eccentric mechanic. A young David McCallum is Tom’s crippled brother.

And the other drivers are drawn from a deep well of future British cinema and TV legends. Gordon Jackson, Alfie Bass, a painfully young Sean Connery, and even Sid James are among them. Sid is playing a rare serious role, but still gets to deliver his lovely dirty-old-man laugh during a local dance that gets out of hand. It’s strange seeing Connery playing a bit part; he would soon steal Baker’s crown as the manliest of British film stars.

The film was directed (very well) by American Cy Endfield, who had been blacklisted in Hollywood for the usual political reasons. There’s a toughness to it that you don’t really expect in a British film of its era. As mentioned, there’s not a huge amount of actual violence (although there is a cracking fistfight), but it has a kind of film noir tone of menace, and the focus on working class machismo makes it feel inevitable that trouble will spill out eventually. British attempts at this kind of thing usually end up feeling a bit parochial and silly, but this somehow makes a virtue of the fact that it’s effectively just about rivalry between drivers working for a building firm.

This is one of the best British films I’ve seen, and stands head and shoulders above most other films being made at the time. (This is the era when critics were swooning for the rather patronising ‘new wave’ of supposedly gritty looks at working class life, most of them directed by posh Oxbridge boys.) Hell Drivers manages to be gritty, likable and exciting.
Blu-ray

The film looks great. It’s been recently restored by the BFI, and has that lovely crisp, sharp quality a lot of black and white films have on Blu-ray, without sacrificing the film grain. Contrast is good, blacks are well and truly black, and there’s a great deal of visible fine detail.

As if the film wasn’t enough, this has a truly great set of extras. They’re mostly in standard definition, and generally look pretty terrible – barely DVD quality, with lots of visible digital artefacts. The exception is a 30-minute puff piece about Rank Studios, which is in HD. This has clips from lots of films being made there at the time, including Hell Drivers. It’s quite endearing; everyone was so posh in those days. There’s also another TV promo for the film, where a TV reporter goes and talks to real lorry drivers about whether the film reflects their jobs accurately. Unsurprisingly, they all say it does.

There are two short interviews with Stanley Baker. One is about his career, and is OK. But the shorter one is a lot more interesting, as there’s fascinating tension between Baker and the interviewer. There’s a 35-minute TV documentary from the 60s about the Rhondda Valley, where Baker was born. It includes a rather melancholy five minutes where Baker muses about how desperate he was to escape having to become a miner, but the show covers plenty of other topics.

The best extras are two TV drama episodes. One is an hour-long ITV detective drama called Who Killed Lamb?, which stars Baker. It’s an exemplary police procedural, as the thoroughly respectable victim, a middle-aged businessman, turns out to have more than a few skeletons in his closet. Baker is on fine, relaxed form as the detective, and there are appearances from a host of well-known faces, including Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine, Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, and the American guy from that one episode of Fawlty Towers. Unlike most of the extras, this is in colour.

The other drama is an episode of Danger Man, Patrick McGoohan’s 60s TV spy show. I’d never seen any of this before; I just knew the fab theme tune and that The Prisoner was sort-of a sequel to it. It’s really good, though, and I shall have to watch some more. McGoohan plays a British secret agent. In this episode he goes to an unnamed African country to investigate supposed collusion with Red China. It’s an odd mix of Man From UNCLE style gadgetry and surprisingly hard-edged drama – McGoohan gets what he wants by mercilessly conning a bumbling ex-colonial officer played by Nigel Stock (an actor I’ve a lot of time for). McGoohan gives a raspy-voiced, confident performance a million miles from his excesses in Hell Drivers. The picture quality on this extra is actually pretty good.

There are more extras, but the commentary isn’t very good, and the booklet is a tad pretentious. There’s a gallery of photos, as you’d expect, and another gallery of panels from a comic book adaptation of the film – the lack of explanation of that is a bit frustrating. Who on earth thought a comic of Hell Drivers would sell?

The only slight issue is that the video clip that plays behind the menu is broken – it looks like it should show a clip from the film, but all you get is a juddering picture of some headlights. Still, the menus all work fine, and it’s not a big deal.

This is one of the best Blu-rays I’ve bought in ages. Not only is the film great, it has fantastic picture quality and a great set of extras that really add value. This is very highly recommended!

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Comments on this review

  • euphie published 15/04/2017
    e :o)
  • siberian-queen published 05/04/2017
    great review
  • missrarr published 05/04/2017
    Great job!
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Product Information : Hell Drivers (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

DVD Region: Blu-ray

Classification: 12 years and over

Video Category: Feature Film

Production Year: 1957

Actor(s): Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan, Peggy Cummins, William Hartnell, Sean Connery

Director(s): C. Raker Endfield

EAN: 5027626807146

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Listed on Ciao since: 26/03/2017