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Although the film belongs to Baker and mcgoohan there are plenty of other famous faces to spot. yes, sid james only ever played one character in all his films- that of sid james- but its an interesting romp nonetheless. I have it on good authority it was filmed around Stanwell moor, west London, and the trucks are "kew" dodges. something no-one has picked up on is that the sequences showing the trucks traveling at speed are obviously speeded up, these old motors were incapable of exceeding 45 mph, even more so carrying 10 tons o gravel (they were only 7 ton design weight) The plot is believable though, the practice of paying drivers "per trip" was and still is a common practice, especially in the tipper sector (obviously to encourage more runs) I know, I worked for a firm remarkably similar to Hawletts. someone has commented on the "coincidence" that all the drivers sleep at the same lodgings- this too was common in the 50's, before the advent of sleeper cabs, drivers would simply find "digs" for the night. also fewer people had their own car in those days, so wouldn't it make sense to sleep close to the job? Made on a small budget in an era where you would need to watch your Ps and Qs and also tone down any scenes of violence, its a classic in my opinion. In those days you'd actually probably be very grateful to be behind one of these wagons, the speed limit for trucks was only 20mph back then!
This underrated film, directed by Cy Endfield (Zulu) is a dour, realistic
drama about an ex-con (Stanley Baker) who goes to work as a lorry driver for
a crooked haulage company, only to discover that the ruthless boss and his
foreman are cheating the drivers of huge amounts of money, and forcing them
to work in dangerous conditions, resulting in the death of several
It benefits from a taut, BAFTA nominated screenplay by Endfield and John Kruse (better known as a documentary film maker), which pulls no punches in its realistic depiction of the genuinely life-threatening conditions that these lorry drivers had to endure.
Its chief asset, however, is the remarkably strong cast. Stanley Baker, as the ex-con determined to expose his corrupt bosses, brings a quiet strength and sincerity to his role as a basically decent guy who makes the wrong choices. It is interesting to compare Baker's performance here with his acclaimed portrayal of the ruthless, hardened gangster in Joseph Losey's 'The Criminal', made three years later.
Patrick McGoohan shines in an early role as the psychopathic lead driver, exuding genuine menace. And as for the priceless supporting cast: Herbert Lom, Sid James, Gordon Jackson, and Sean Connery in one of his earliest roles..need I say more. To sum up, Hell Drivers is a minor classic of post-war British cinema, and deserves more recognition than it has formerly feceived.
The trucking crew reads like a who's who of male British-based acting
talent. Baker, Connery, Sid James (who was a superb straight actor),
Lom, Gordon Jackson, etc, under the foremanship of Patrick McGoohan.
Back home minding the shop we have David McCallum and in the office,
ripping them all off is William Hartnell.
I love the road scenes be they shot at normal speed or otherwise. The language had to be toned down for censorship reasons, otherwise you would find McGoohan calling Baker something a little stronger than yellow belly.
With a cast like that you would expect to see some great performances; and you do. But since Patrick McGoohan has the best role, he stands head and shoulders above the rest as the mad Irishman who swigs Guiness at the wheel, and who can lose a fight and still have his cigarette sticking out of his mouth.
I love this film.
This movie shows us a side of the English that most Americans are unfamiliar
with. Down, dirty, gritty, and nasty. We see these traits more in
ourselves than in our friends across the pond.
As an old trucker, I was practically hypnotized by this movie. If I were still driving it would give me nightmares. A trucking crew, at odds with themselves as well as the owner, practically cut each others throats to become top driver. It is a daily grind consisting of hauling loads of gravel back and forth from a gravel pit to a construction site, rolling over each other as well as everyone else on the road in the process.
It isn't the story that makes this film - it's the cast, action, and direction - in any order you like. Stanley Baker plays the new guy. An ex-con trying to make a new start. Patrick McGoohan plays his antagonist in a truly evil fashion. I thought back and cannot remember seeing Patrick McGoohan in any standout role other than a Columbo re-run. But he really hit the mark here. Probably before he became convinced he was the world's greatest actor. The rest would fill out the Rank Organisation's register. Gordon Jackson (from The Great Escape), Herbert Lom (from the Pink Panther series) as an Italian!, and Sean Connery (pre James Bond) with real hair!
I found myself watching this movie with my mouth open and wondering WHERE WERE THE COPS!
An oddball movie, a hybrid of (would be) Hollywood tough-guy melodrama and
UK kitchen sink sensibility. And yes, starring Dr Who, The Prisoner, 007,
Man from UNCLE and many more. Certainly the greatest cast of cult actors
ever to appear together, well, ever. This movie is terrible and magnificent
in equal measure. To me it is staggeringly watchable. The premise is
seriously skewered yet endearing all the same: 1950s English truckdrivers
behaving like 1850s American outlaws in a Never Never Land where trucks are
allowed to habitually run at 80mph down country lanes without so much a peep
from the plod.
McGoohan is a star turn here and Peggy Cummins makes for a surprisingly un-frigid lead (look, the UK film industry in the 1950s didn't do sexy -what do you mean Diana Dors? - proves my point!!). But the film belongs to Baker - brooding, smouldering, moral, vengeful, utterly magnificent. We don't make them like him, or like this any more.
A tautly directed and tight lipped B movie done in American 50's crime genre style. This was one British film that had actors playing tough guys properly instead of the usual feeble and artificial methods of acting tough that let down scores of British films of that time. In particular the fist fight scene looked convincing and dramatic for a change. All this was very refreshing for its time. A very watchable Patrick Mcgoohan excelled in the role as the main antagonist playing a believable hard b'stard. I wish he had done subsequent roles as a leading heavy he would have been good at that. A strong cast all round. The dour realism of working class England was captured well. The crazy driving was not too far from the truth either. During the Fifties there was a massive rebuilding programme going on following the war and the blitz and you would see these ballast lorries scurrying around everywhere breaking speed limits where they could. Many looked in a bad state of maintenance. For truck geeks they were Dodge Semi Forwards with mostly Perkins diesel engines.
Stanley Baker heads a remarkable cast of high quality British based actors
in a rattleing good yarn of corruption and grim macho rivalry. The towering
Welsh actor looks and acts every inch the quiet spoken smouldering tough
character(Tom Yately),a role that he was seemingly born to play, a
combination of working class hard-man, reluctant/accidental criminal and
passionate lover. A role too that he played in slightly differing forms in
several other classic British crime flicks of the 1950's such as ONLY THE
GOD DIE YOUNG but in HELL DRIVERS he has distilled the persona to
Tom Yately an itinerant ex con, taking the only job he can find with his
dubious background. This leads him to a trucking firm who deliver ballast
(gravel/stone)and insist on their drivers (all apparently similar, down at
heel ex cons and drifters) running insane risks at illegal speeds in order
to earn enough bonus pay to survive and with the promise that if any of
can deliver more loads in a day than the obnoxious foreman, Red, the prize
is a solid silver cigarette case worth a small fortune.
Tom lands a room in a rough boarding house where most of his workmates
live and so work and it's pressures and rivalries are with him
constantly.The landlady is a tough old bird and well capable of dishing out
whatever is required to keep order.And she needs to! The other drivers are
prone to constant fighting and low-brow practical jokes, one of which lands
Tom in a classic confrontation with Red (played by Patrick "The Prisoner"
McGoohan)which gives the film one of it's truly great moments of cinematic
fury. As the story developes Tom ducks out of a dance hall brawl rather
risk his parole and becomes ostracized by the other drivers who have all
been involved and who resent him for his apparent cowardice. Only his the
rather more reasonable Italian ex POW, Gino (Herbert"Pink Panther" Lom)
remains loyal. There is however the complication of Gino's "girl" (Peggy
Cummings)who works at the truck yard. Unlike Gino,she sees herself as a
agent and makes a pitch for Baker.I won't spoil the plot which does have
some good twists and turns but I will say that it all ends in rather
dramatic, satisfying, if not unexpected violence.
McGoohan, as Red, gives a superb performances , one of psychotic, cigar
chewing , glowering animal menace. He makes Red the kind of foreman from
hell that No-one would argue with. His acid-spitting delivery of lines,
boxer-like stance and unkempt appearance simply ooze evil. Its a raw edged
version of the rather more sophisticated "No.6" he later made famous in
Prisoner" . Red could easily be "No.6"s mentally unstable cousin!
Gino is played with warmth and sensitivity by Lom, who's truly a class act, so much more so than his most famous Role of Inspector Dreyfuss in the PINK PANTHER films would have us believe. Peggy Cummings as Lucy, his girlfriend, is also superb; bright, quick, sassy and very attractive. Something of a teaser and everything of a femme fatale full of barely suppressed passion. Her love scenes with Tom are unusually sparky for a 50's British film.
Of the others, where do you start? Sean Connery is there in his pre-007 days. He's good but not yet great, but he looks the part, as in fact do every one of the cast, who were all chosen with great success. Carry-On star Sid James clowns about in some scenes but has a raw edge that reminds us what a damn good straight actor he could be when given the role while Gordon Jackson puts in a similarly gritty performance long before his lasting TV fame of THE PROFESSIONALS. The yard boss, played by the original DR WHO, William Hartnell is another fine piece of casting in what must rank as one of the best British films of the 50's. The story is unusual, a change from the whodunnit's, kitchen sink dramas and Ealing Comedies that were standard fare at the time. The script isn't too peppered with cliches and fairly crackles with tension at times. The action scenes both with the actors and with the trucks are sharply directed (aside from the old trick of speeding up the film at times which was common pactice untill quite recently and always, always looks false!)and every scene is well photographed to portray a grim, earthy working-class world. The characters are real and the performances are superb. It's a fine ensemble piece with a strong but not overpowering star role. Baker is in command but the others do not wither in his shadow and it can't have been by accident that the same star and director later worked together with major international success on ZULU.
When this film was made I was 10 years old and my father was a truck
driver in a small (by today's standards) Bedford truck almost identical
to the Dodge trucks used in the film and was operating in the very area
the film was made. He and his colleagues witnessed much of the film
making and apparently had quite a laugh at some of the antics of the
actors trying to move the trucks about! (If they had realised what the
actors' pay was in relation to their own and what the future held for
the likes of Sean Connery and Patrick McGoohan perhaps they would have
laughed a little less!!)
As a lad my greatest delight was to accompany my father for the day and on odd occasions I got to drive the truck about in pits and quarries just like in the film and we would occasionally stop off in one of the numerous transport 'caffs' that existed in those days - with biscuits in glass jars, menus written in chalk, Coca Cola and jukeboxes in every one!! What I can tell you is that, disregarding the 'storyline' with its necessarily exaggerated drama and the near-psychotic behaviour of some of the characters, the atmosphere, scenery and setting of the story is spot on.
The film picks up nicely on the period that I witnessed myself at the time in the UK, when the bleak, post-war drabness was gradually being turned round by hard work and long hours put in by just the sort of drifting, diverse workforce (including ex-POWs) that was portrayed with some pretty fine character studies. The grittiness of their existence and the way they coped with the pressures of the day was depicted very well - pubs sold a lot more ale and a lot less 'chicken in the basket' in those days! It was a time when 'black & white' Britain was becoming 'Technicolour' and little black cars (like the Austin 7 in the film that keeps popping all over the place) were slowly being eased out by the arrival of smart new models which could even be had in *different colours*!! (Ten years from the time this film was made colour was everywhere and Britain had become 'psychedelic'!!)
Obviously the events depicted in the film would not have been allowed to go on long before they attracted the attention of the police but it may interest you to know that, for a brief while, some of the ex-military, petrol-engined trucks that were in use just after the war could be made to run faster than the police cars of the day and if you could get away from them, they couldn't 'nick' you!! Also, one small thing that doesn't seem to be picked up on by any of the comments I have read is that the trucks seemed to be running an awful lot of material into a building site that would have struggled to use it all!!
I have been delighted to read through some of the favourable comments here and agree that this film is an underrated gem - it obviously touched me as it was all like yesterday for me, but it also stands in its own right as a superb 'modern melodrama' with a star-studded cast, action, humour, a love angle, violence, death, road chases and the bad guys *getting it* in the end!!
(And it's now almost *50* years old...!!)
Ten out of ten - for a lot of reasons.....
The spirit of 30s Warner Brothers movies lives in this tough, intense
about men doing an impossible job-- driving gravel trucks at breakneck
(Like the mail service in Only Angels Have Wings, this company loses way too
many men and trucks to make economic sense, but it's great as a movie
pressure cooker for character.) Baker, a largely forgotten star who was the first real working class hero in British films and the precursor to Michael Caine et al. (which, to extend the Warner Bros. analogy, sort of makes him to British cinema what John Garfield was as the first real ethnic American star), is brooding and Eastwood-silent as a new trucker with a past, while a highly interesting cast of character actors includes not only three future movie/TV spy stars, as other
reviewers have noted, but a bunch of ace Carry On-type comedians (Sid James,
Wilfred Lawson, and Alfie Bass), Gun Crazy star Peggy Cummins, the future
Mrs. Charles Bronson (Jill Ireland) and even a Dr. Who (William Hartnell).
Writer-director Endfield, an American blacklistee whose most famous film (and Baker's) would be Zulu ten years later, clearly drew some inspiration from the international art house hit The Wages of Fear, but this movie wisely doesn't seek existential meanings and keeps its B movie soul pure-- and hardboiled.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tom, an ex-con, takes a job with a corrupt haulage firm driving ballast
along treacherous country roads. The drivers, led by the crooked
foreman Red, are given cash incentives to deliver more loads by driving
dangerously. Tom aims to beat Red's times on the road, but hasn't
reckoned on the lengths Red will go to to protect his lucrative setup.
This is a rare treat - a solid British action drama made in the fifties; exciting, tensely scripted and directed, and extremely well acted. It's a British equivalent of the numerous and enjoyable American drive-in movies of the fifties, with a rock-and-roll sensibility and a fine young cast. And what a cast - Baker is solid in the lead, Cummins makes a great sweater-girl, and Lom, the wonderfully nasty Hartnell, Ireland (who was only twenty-one) and McCallum are all terrific. McGoohan, as the thoroughly loathsome and twisted Red, is electrifying - his whole body seems stretched too tight and he spits out his dialogue like bile. This is one of the best villains in all British cinema and an absolute must-see performance. The other stars of the movie are the horrible ten-ton tipper trucks, roaring along the muddy roads in packs like angry supercharged elephants. Geoffrey Unsworth's Vistavision camera-work is sensational and I particularly love the way he uses so many rear shots, following actors into spaces and creating great depth to the photography. Well-scripted by John Krause and the talented Endfield - a South African who worked in Hollywood but got blacklisted and moved to the UK, and is billed here as C. Raker Endfield - this movie entertains from start to finish. And what other film has a supporting cast featuring Chief Inspector Dreyfus, The Prisoner, a Dr Who, a Man From Uncle and a James Bond !!
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