BluRay/DVD Reviews

HELL DRIVERS (aka HARD DRIVERS)

By • Apr 18th, 2004 •

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1947, Black & White, Region 2 DVD release from Carlton

Before we go any further, just read that cast list again. Ok? Now, can you imagine how much it would’ve cost in the mid-sixties to put that group of actors together in one movie?
Let’s see, we’ve got established film stars Stanley Baker from The Guns of Navarone and Zulu, and Herbert Lom, who had just had his own TV series The Human Jungle, co-starred in El Cid and Mysterious Island and who had recently begun an illustrious career as bumbling Inspector Clouseau’s boss Commissioner Dreyfuss in A Shot in the Dark. Who else have we got? Oh yes, Patrick McGoohan, star of Danger Man (Secret Agent); Teen heart throb David (Man From UNCLE) McCallum; William Hartnell, TV’s Doctor Who; Star of the Carry On films Sid James; Gordon Jackson, Michael Caine’s ill-fated colleague in The Ipcress File; Established British character actors Wilfred Lawson and Alfie Bass, and this Sean Connery bloke – what’s he been in recently…? Oh yes; only the star of four bloody Bond films, that’s all.

“Sorry boys, but I think this is going to be far too expensive!”

But of course this wasn’t the mid-sixties. It was 1957, so all we actually had at the time was a couple of up-and-coming film stars, some comfortably familiar British B-movie and radio names and a few new young hopefuls.

Little did they know what was to become of the individual members of their little troupe.

The film itself has a pretty mundane plot (using the term ‘plot’ very loosely):
Ex-con Tom (Baker) turns up at a haulage yard (imaginatively called ‘Hawlett’s’) looking for a job. He becomes one of their drivers collecting and delivering gravel, or ‘ballast’, to building sites, but soon comes across a scam being run by the boss (Hartnell) and the drivers’ foreman and pacesetter Red (McGoohan). The boss is getting paid for more drivers than he’s actually employing which is why Red sets such a breakneck pace for the drivers in order to fill the required quota. They then share the extra money between them. There is, of course, instant antagonism between Red and newcomer ‘tough-guy’ Tom, whom Red sees as a serious threat to his position as Number 1 driver (yes, ironically, ‘I am not a number’ McGoohan was ‘Number 1’ – he even had a badge on the front of his truck), and honest and headstrong Tom also, foolishly, eventually manages to alienate himself from the other sheepish drivers.

Hectic races through the countryside in 10-ton trucks ensue, and when Tom’s friend and fellow driver Gino (Lom) is killed in mistake for Tom (he’d swapped the numbers on the truck you see), Tom determines to get both Red and the boss.

So, not complicated really.

There’s also a (somewhat pointless) back story involving McCallum as Tom’s younger brother, who is on crutches because of something Tom did, and presumably why he went to prison for a year, but it’s a bit muddled and doesn’t really matter anyway.

Sean Connery plays a relatively minor role with ungroomed eyebrows, or rather eyebrow, which seems to reach right across his forehead. How he progressed from this, and Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), to become the world’s most debonair Secret Agent in the space of four years can only be put down to perseverance and as good an agent as James Bond himself. Nobody is that lucky.

Peggy (Night of the Demon) Cummins as the boss’s secretary, and a very young Jill Ireland (later to become McCallum’s wife – then Charles Bronson’s. She obviously knew the type of man she liked) provide the romantic interest.

To be honest the lorry chase scenes are well done for the time, with good camera work and the use of some very subtle model work, even though there are some obvious speeded up film sequences, and there’s a great fight scene between Baker and McGoohan, who both had boxing experience. But why the screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA I’ll never know.

The bits I enjoyed most on this DVD release were the two documentaries included in the Special Features. ‘Look In on Hell Riders’ was originally made in 1957, and a typically posh British presenter takes us on location and behind the scenes of the making of the movie, with some very badly staged ‘spontaneous’ interviews with Cy Endfield, Stanley Baker and Alfie Bass. The latter one is particularly cringe-worthy as our man ‘stumbles’ across the actor sitting outside on the side of a barrel eating his lunch, which rests on the top of another barrel – as a star would (methinks not). Taking a seat beside Alfie, on his barrel, we begin a brief interview. Then, on cue, someone shouts ‘Alfie, you’re wanted!’. Alfie abandons his meal, as a pro would when duty called, and dashes off, leaving the presenter nearly falling off the now wobbling barrel. Oh, how we laughed…
Our intrepid reporter also visits a Transport Café (a grand old British institution) to interview some ‘real lorry drivers’ to see what they make of the film. These ‘real lorry drivers’ look like a bunch of extras from My Fair Lady and explain what a strain ‘real lorry’ driving is on the stomach. I kept waiting for Stanley Holloway to burst into song: “Wiv a liddle bit, wiv a liddle bit…”

The other documentary is a studio-based interview with a cigarette smoking Stanley Baker (again, obviously rehearsed) made around 1958 and featuring excerpts from Hell Drivers and Baker’s other movies Violent Playground (1958) (once more with McCallum) and Sea Fury (1958). Again this is a reminder of how we used to do things in the good old days, as Baker responds, after a suitable pause, to every question by throwing in the (another posh) interviewer’s name: “Funny you should ask that Mac…”; “Well Mac, it was like this…”; “I know what you mean Mac…”; “Well Mac, that’s a difficult question…” and so on, until finally rounding off with our interviewer turning meaningfully to the camera with a wry grin (as no doubt he’d rehearsed in front of the mirror so many times) with “Well, I’m sure that’s one young man who knows what he wants, and I’m sure he’ll get it.”
And he knows your name Mac…

Also included is an original theatre trailer.

Not a particularly great film, but certainly a nice little piece of cinema history.


Cast:
Tom: Stanley Baker
Gino: Herbert Lom
Lucy: Peggy Cummins
Red: Patrick McGoohan
Cartley: William Hartnell
Ed: Wilfred Lawson
Dusty: Sidney James
Jill: Jill Ireland
Tinker: Alfie Bass
Scottie: Gordon Jackson
Johnny: Sean Connery
Jimmie: David McCallum

Credits
Director: C. Raker (Cy) Endfield
Production Company: Aqua Films
Producer: Benjamin S. Fisz for Rank Film Productions

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5 Responses »

  1. I’ve just seemn “Hell Drivers” on TV (June 15th, 2009) and think it deserves more praise than Max has given it. Its toughness and realism compared with other films of the same period (e.g. the main fight scene) surprised me, and although the female roles are pretty hammy, most of the male actors do a good job. It is only in the last 20 minutes or so that our hero, Tom (played by Baker), finds out about the scam and the final chase and crash to death scene is well done: I even wondered if the final scene in “The Italian Job” mght not owe a debt to this film… (And by the way, the number badges are on the BACKS of the trucks (MAYBE on the front as well) which is why poor Gino (played by a very young looking Lom) gets killed instead of Tom… )

  2. The screenplay may not be the best but it serves the characters well enough to portray the bleakness of their situation. All involved are unlikeable to a point in their parts which reminds me more of people in real-life – none of us are perfect, unlike some on the silver screen and that is the point. Despite their unworthyness as people we still care to the bitter end what happens to them and mainly to Tom. Unusually gritty and compelling for a British film it deserves it’s cult status. I think a re-make might handle certain elements better but it would have to avoid the more typically modern ‘hard-men’ stereotypes and attitudes, in the way DeNiro spoiled the re-make of Cape Fear (not that that is much of a comparison. 8/10 for me.

  3. Thanks for your comments fellas, and I do actually like the film. I remembered it from many years ago as it had stuck in my head and the reason I reviewed it. And I can still watch it repeatedly. As I said, it’s not a particularly great film, but certainly a nice little piece of cinema history. Oh, and H. R. – Regarding the numbers on the trucks – take a look at the DVD cover…

    Max.

  4. hell drivers was being made in 1953 i know this as i took one of the lorries away on a tractor and trailer the other lorry was driven away by the land owner mr brian harris regards maureen

  5. Wow. Thanks for that Maureen. I hope you enjoyed the review and that it brought back some memories.

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