Hell Drivers released in 1957 remains one of my top 20 all time favourite movies. When I first saw this black and white movie the whole audience seemed to be swaying from side to site as overladen trucks went careering around tight corners along narrow country lanes at breakneck speeds. This was due to director Cy Endfield’s cunningly clever camera positions giving the viewer a roller-coaster experience.
The plot revolves around a haulage company that has been contracted to collect gravel from a gravel pit and delivery it to a huge construction site, a round trip of some twenty miles and with no traffic lights to contend with. For each 10ton load delivered a driver would be paid 7 shillings (35p in today’s money) on top of his 4shilling per hour shift. To avoid the sack a driver must complete a minimum of 12 loads each day. That wasn’t easy, as they had to maintain the truck they were allocated, none of which would stand a chance of passing today’s M.o.T test. There was a bonus for the driver who completed the most loads in a day, which was the holding of a gold cigarette case. Being the 1950’s everyone in the film smokes.
The keeper of the gold cigarette case was always Red the drivers’ foreman who used dirty tricks to stay on top. Red was well played by Patrick McGoohan and unlike his later films you could understand all his spoken words and he didn’t sound like he had a plum in his mouth. Always that is until new boy Tom comes onto the scene. Tom’s an ex-con but a good guy all the same. Stanley Baker, that intense Welsh wizard of an actor, was perfect for the role of Tom and it’s easy to see why he was a favourite with British film audiences at the time.
Being the new boy, Tom was given a hard time by Red and his followers, who were most of the other drivers, but he is befriended by Gino a mister naïve nice guy and played by the versatile Herbert Lom of Pink Panther fame. He’s only a hell driver so as to earn enough cash to marry the manager’s secretary Lucy and take her to Italy his homeland. Unfortunately for him she falls somewhat predictably for new boy Tom who plays hard to get. There’s a typical 50’s censured sex scene where Tom working late on maintaining his beat up truck is approached by a “won’t be denied” Lucy. He takes her over a wheel arch but not before switching off his work lamp to save the audience’s blushes.
Having fallen out badly with Red, Tom decides to have a shot at winning the prized cigarette case. Red and his followers use dirty tricks to thwart Tom but Gino sides with and comes to the aid of his new found friend. This intervention eventually costs Gino dearly. Tom closes in on Red’s tally but just can’t match it until he learns about the short cut, which of course is deadly dangerous being along the edge of high cliffs, and it’s where the climax of the movie takes place.
The movie has scenes of real nostalgia of a bygone age long gone and sadly never to return. There’s Ma West’s guesthouse where all the drivers stayed even though she was a bit of a dragon, a greasy spoon type café full of truck drivers that provided takeaway cheese sandwiches, and a village dance where the drivers went hoping to click with a local skirt without the aid of alcohol. It is also sprinkled with well-known actors in supporting roles with William (Doctor Who) Hartnell as the sniveling manager. Some playing Red’s followers include Sidney James, Alfie Bass and Sean Connery who probably flinches when watching his performance in this movie. One might have thought the movie is a perfect candidate for a 3D remake, but with all the traffic control measures imposed since it was first made regrettably all realism would be lost.