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Hell Is a City (1960)

In Britain, a Manchester police inspector becomes obsessed with capturing a criminal who escapes from prison.


Val Guest


Val Guest (screenplay), Maurice Procter (novel)

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Nominated for 2 BAFTA Film Awards. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Stanley Baker ... Det. Inspector Harry Martineau
John Crawford ... Don Starling
Donald Pleasence ... Gus Hawkins
Maxine Audley ... Julia Martineau
Billie Whitelaw ... Chloe Hawkins
Joseph Tomelty Joseph Tomelty ... Furnisher Steele
George A. Cooper ... Doug Savage
Geoffrey Frederick Geoffrey Frederick ... Det. Devery
Vanda Godsell ... Lucretia 'Lucky' Lusk
Charles Houston ... Clogger Roach
Joby Blanshard ... Tawny Jakes
Charles Morgan Charles Morgan ... Laurie Lovett
Peter Madden ... Bert Darwin
Dickie Owen Dickie Owen ... Bragg
Lois Daine Lois Daine ... Cecily


Committed but seen-it-all police inspector Martineau rightly guesses that after a violent jailbreak a local criminal will head home to Manchester to pick up the spoils from his last job. Martineau is soon investigating a murder during a street robbery which seems to lead back to the same villain. Concentrating on the case and using his local contacts to try and track the gang down, he is aware he is not keeping his own personal life together as well as he might. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


From its roof-top suspense to its back-alley violence... See more »


Crime | Thriller


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Release Date:

13 November 1960 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Hetzjagd See more »


Box Office


£115,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


"Hell is a City" was the last "Hammer" film for Stanley Baker as his services could no longer be afforded. See more »


After speaking with Don on the phone, Lucky tells Doug to pour two pints of bitter. In seconds he has implausibly hand-pulled two (slightly uneven) pints. See more »


Inspector Martineau: You on or off duty?
Devery: I'm just going off.
Inspector Martineau: Come on, I'll buy you a drink.
Devery: Well it's very nice of you, but I'm afraid...
Inspector Martineau: Teach her to wait. That's one thing a policeman's girl must always learn.
See more »

Crazy Credits

"The production of this film was greatly assisted by the full cooperation of the Chief Constable and the members of the Manchester City Police Force, for which the producers wish to express their thanks." (opening credit) See more »


Featured in Charters & Caldicott: Not Cricket (1985) See more »

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User Reviews

Stupendous British Noir is one of the best of the Genre
3 June 2015 | by barev-85094See all my reviews

HELL IS A CITY, 1959, Director Val Guest UNKNOWN Classic FILM NOIR From England is one of the best of the genre TEN STARS **********

VIewed in London at a special Hammer classics reissue press screening, 1996. Inspector Harry Martineau (Stanley Baker), a hard-boiled detective stationed in Manchester England, suspects that a ruthless escaped criminal Don Starling (John Crawford) will come back to town to retrieve a cache of stolen jewels he hid there before his conviction. Martineau has problems at home where he and his wife Julia (Maxine Audley) constantly bicker about his role as a cop which monopolizes his time, and their childless marriage. Starling arrives in town as expected and immediately forms a gang to rob a bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasance), to raise enough cash for a clean getaway but what they grab turns out to be a large amount of money in marked bills to prevent their theft. Starling kills a young girl during the robbery and dumps the body by the side of the road out in the country but is spotted by Martineau who is hot on his trail following down one lead after another. On the run with Martineau in hot pursuit, now wanted for murder, Starling takes refuge at one point hiding in the attic of the bookmaker he robbed and threatening his philandering wife Chloe (Billie Whitelaw) he once had an affair with. When discovered by Pleasance Starling manages to knock him out with injuries that put him in the hospital. Martineau, following up another hunch, squeezes more information from Hawkins wife Chloe. At a large outdoor gambling game, where some of the tainted money changes hands, Martineau catches up with the accomplices in the robbery and is now just one step behind his quarry.

Starling recovers the cache of stolen jewels from a crooked fence (Furnisher Steele) but has to hide upstairs when the police, tipped off, arrive on the scene. In an extremely harrowing sequence which becomes the unforgettable centerpiece of the film he holds the beautiful blonde daughter of the fence, Silver Steele, (Sarah Branch) hostage, but she is unable to scream for help because she is deaf and dumb. As he stalks her around the attic room piled high with furniture, in desperation she manages to knock out a window which draws the attention of the neighborhood. Martineau breaks in and pursues the vicious killer in a final showdown up on the rooftops above Manchester -- the most suspenseful Mother of all rooftop chases ever filmed. At the end Martineau chooses his job over his marriage. In a wistful coda at his favorite saloon he runs into Lucky Lusk (Vanda Godsell) the attractive barmaid he has been flirting with all along, and she offers herself to him full on, but he turns her open ended offer down on the grounds that he is still married. "Well, she says, in wry resignation, "If you ever have a kid name it for me".

The Martineau hard boiled cop figure who doesn't mind bending the law to get his man is a predecessor of Dirty Harry by some twenty years and the mean streets of the city of Manchester are portrayed like another character hovering over the picture. A major city rarely seen in British films sits for a remarkable portrait. I had seen this movie years ago when it first came out but quickly disappeared. All I remembered was the white knuckle scene in the attic with the vicious killer relentlessly stalking the pathetically defenseless deaf and dumb girl -- every bit as harrowing and suspenseful now as it was back then. BRAVURA filmmaking beginning to end by Val Guest in a classic B/w mold. Unforgettable. The perfect thriller. Stanley Baker, usually seen in meaty supporting roles, never quite became a top star, but was nevertheless one of the best and most businesslike British actors of his time. K

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