Cult Movie: Gritty trucker tale Hell Drivers a classic Brit film noir
AN ORIGINAL poster for Hell Drivers (1957) hangs proudly on my living room wall. It's a classic slice of hard-boiled 50s cinema art. It's a simple but beautifully hand-painted affair. The chiselled features of Stanley Baker dominate proceedings as he glares powerfully down, grappling with a steering wheel manfully. Patrick McGoohan lurks menacingly in the background.
Simple as the image is, it tells you everything about the film it's promoting. A tough, gritty tale of truckers fighting for supremacy on the grim back roads of northern Britain, it's essentially a home-grown film noir, peopled with an extraordinarily strong cast of quality actors (alongside Baker and McGoohan there are memorable performances from the likes of Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, Sid James and even a very fresh faced Sean Connery) and directed by a true maverick in the shape of Cy Enfield (Zulu, Universal Soldier) who was blacklisted in America at the time.
Sixty years on from its original release, it remains a film I love dearly for many reasons.
There's that cast, for a start. Stanley Baker has a righteous, upstanding quality as the good guy just trying to make a living and McGoohan (soon to rise to international fame and fortune as Dangerman on TV) has a deep, brooding persona that constantly threatens to bubble over into unrestrained violence. Baker and McGoohan are at the film's core as they battle it out to be king of the haulage company but there's a lot to enjoy from the supporting cast as well.
Alongside those Brit character actors already named, there are hard-boiled turns from the likes of future Dr Who William Hartnell, David McCallum and Gordon Jackson.
Director Enfield also shoots the action with a zip and punch rarely seen in British cinema to this day. If you think a film set around the world of haulage sounds dull, prepare to be impressed as trucks barrel down dangerous country lanes with wild abandon and thrill-seeking recklessness. Enfield places you right at the wobbling wheel throughout.
The relationships between the characters are handled with equal panache. Tough and unsentimental, they feel real and very un-Hollywood throughout. Every figure in the film, from big to small, feels genuine and there are moments for great characters like Herbert Lom and the peerless Sid James to almost steal the show.
Visually it remains a neat period treat with the fur-collared leather jackets and greased up quiffs of Baker and McGoohan shining proudly in all their monochrome glory.
This latest reissue from Network DVD features a beautiful new print that allows that crisp black and white cinematography to practically jump from the screen, an audio commentary that puts the film in its social and historical context and even an on-location short called Looking In On Hell Drivers that sees Stanley Baker talk about his Welsh roots and meets real life truckers who chat about the dangers and delights of their chosen profession.
A fitting package then for a truly undervalued cult classic.