Monday, February 20, 2023

Hell Drivers

Another movie that's been sitting on my DVR for several months, which apparently got a DVD release in the UK but not in the US that I could find, is Hell Drivers. Recently, I watched it in order to do a post on it here.

Hell Drivers has a whole bunch of names that you'll recognize in the opening credits, but a bit surprisingly, the top-billed nominal star of the movie -- and certainly the movie's protagonist -- is played by Stanley Baker. Baker plays Tom Yately, a man who's been away for a year and looking for a job. To that end, he goes to Hawlett's, a trucking concern managed by Cartley (William Hartnell). Cartley is a tough boss, running trucks to take gravel for the quarry to the concerns that need it, expecting the drivers to put in a good dozen runs a day driving over roads that aren't particularly good. It also pays a low hourly wage, but with a piecework bonus, encouraging drivers to take risks to get in more runs. But it's the sort of job you could get in those days if you had a bit of a shady past. And Tom has that shady past, having actually been in prison instead of being abroad as he claims.

The head of the drivers is Red (Patrick McGoohan), a man who makes more runs than anybody else mostly because he takes a shortcut that everybody else considers too dangerous. Tom decides that he's going to challenge Red's record of runs in a day, and the conflict between Tom and Red is what drives much of the movie. They're clearly not friends; instead, Tom becomes friends with Italian-born driver Gino (Herbert Lom). Gino is pursuing the secretary Cartley's office, Lucy (Peggy Cummins), although he doesn't realize that it's a futile pursuit.

Meanwhile, Tom is hoping that he can make enough money from this job to provide some extra support for his mother and kid brother (David McCallum, in a small role), but Tom has a rather complicated family situation. He's also not making as much money as he'd like because Cartley keeps lookin for reasons to dock the drivers pay for treating the trucks too roughly. As it turns out, that's not the only way Cartley is stiffing the drivers, but that other info comes out as part of the film's climax.

Tom still vows to break Red's record, but Red is willing to stop at nothing, including sabotaging other drivers' trucks, in order to keep that from happing. This leads to tragedy not for Tom, but for another driver, and then leads to that climax.

Hell Drivers is the sort of movie the British were better at making than Hollywood was back in the 1950s. That's because, in my opinion, Britain didn't have the extensive studio backlots that Hollywood did, so while a lot of Hollywood stuff still looks studio-bound even while having a higher budget than British movies, those British movies have a rawer, more realistic look about them. Unfortunately, the lower budget also means that a bit too much time in the movie is spent on transport scenes that look like material was recycled as the drivers are going down the same roads.

I also mentioned the cast of well-known names. In addition to Lom, McGoohan, and McCallum, you can also find a young Sean Connery in one of his earliest roles as another of the truck drivers. There's also a bit part for Jill Ireland as a barmaid.

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