Review – Hell Drivers (1957)
Hell Drivers is literally one hell of a movie. Before the film even starts, just take a look at the cast list. It’s a veritable who’s who of late fifties acting talent, and that’s not including the newcomers, who will go on to great success in the not to distant future.
Stanley Baker plays Joe “Tom” Wheatley, fresh out of prison, for his part in an armed robbery, which left his younger brother, played by David McCallum, permanently injured, and on crutches. He goes for a job at Hawletts Trucking Company, run by Cartley, played by William Hartnell, pre Doctor Who, a firm which specialises in transporting gravel. It’s an aggressive job where speed is everything, regardless of risk, or danger to life. A minimum of 12 runs a day is required or “your out”.
He immediately falls foul of Red, played by Patrick McGoohan. He’s the company foreman, the pacesetter, making 18 runs a day, and an absolute brute of a man. He also meets the rest of the drivers played by the likes of Alfie Bass, Herbert Lom, who he immediately strikes up a friendship with, Sid James, playing a character not a million miles away from his Carry On roles, and Gordon Jackson, who went on to play Hudson the butler in long running series Upstairs Downstairs and Head of CI5, Cowley in The Professionals.
You’ve also got Peggy Cummins, who went on the same year, to star in the horror classic Night Of The Demon, and Jill Ireland who met, and married David McCallum, after they met on the set of Hell Drivers. Many years later she became Mrs Charles Bronson, and went on to make quite a few movies with him.
We basically follow this excellent cast of characters, as they risk life and limb, on a daily basis, driving at breakneck speed in order to achieve the almost impossible targets, set by the corrupt management. The story turns from a superb, “boys own” style action adventure movie, to a much more sinister film, in the last half hour or so. It almost borders on film noir.
With a cast as stellar as this one you really cant go wrong. The story is strong, the acting by all concerned is excellent, and it’s directed beautifully by Cy Endfield, who teamed up again with Stanley Baker for the 1964 epic Zulu. I’m guessing Hell Drivers was also quite raw, not to mention, brutal fare for 1957. Fairly certain the language had to be toned down in order to get an “A” certificate, plus the fight scene between Red and Tom would have been fairly gutsy stuff for it’s day.
The “A” certificate did surprise me a little. While watching this amazing movie, one of my first thoughts was, that this must have been an “X” certificate. I’d have thought, personally, that the fight between Red and Tom would have been reason alone to grant it an “over 18s” audience. I’ve seen movies, alot less violent, and adult in nature, granted an “X” certificate, so the equivelant of a “PG” rating did catch me off guard.
To sum up this is an absolutely brilliant movie, and one i will definetely be watching again, and in the not too distant future. My only slight critisism, if i had one, would be that the last 15 minutes felt a little rushed. It got to within the last quarter of an hour, and there were so many loose ends to be tied up. I wasn’t sure how they were going to bring the film to a satisfying conclusion, but they did. All in all an excellent way to spend two hours. Absolutely five star entertainment and highly recommended to anyone looking for a good solid British action drama.