The lastest Blu-Ray restoration from Network releasing is the hard boiled British thriller Hell Drivers. The film was originally released in 1957 by the Rank Organisation, a company that was known for its adventure and war films during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Hell Drivers is a prime example of the film company moving into the smaller scale drama with a focus on realism.
The Hell Drivers are a group of short haul drivers working for a company who push their workforce to the limit in order to make the maximum profit. The drivers get paid by the load meaning they are forced to take as many risks on the road as possible to make up time and increase their pay packets. The foreman of the drivers is Red (Patrick McGoohan), a hard, uncompromising bully who runs the team through fear and intimidation. Coming into the team is ex-con Tom (Stanley Baker). Almost immediately he clashes with Red and the remainder of the film sees this relationship heading to its inevitable conclusion.
This film is fairly straightforward in its telling. There is a protagonist ,Tom, who is flawed but with a good work ethic about him. He is trying to fix the mistakes in his past. Taking on work that breaks the rules of the road is a small price to pay in order to make money. With him are the usual assortment of shady characters, some good, some not. Each of them are their to forward the plot in some way. The journey of the main characters are all fairly familiar but that isn’t to say that the film is a disappointment in any way. Far from it.
What it does well is keep the audience engaged. It is a tight thriller that wastes no time in getting to the point. Right from the start we see what the drivers are expected to do as we accompany Tom on his trial run. The dangers are all too real as he tries to make the run as quickly as possible. The film continuous on this pace for the remainder of the run time.
Stanley Baker was known up to that point primary as a villain. This film marked a departure from him as he became the hero figure. He was able to draw on his previous roles to effectively play the role of Tom. It’s no black and white role and the film goes some way to explain his motivations when Tom ventures home to see his mother and brother. The other main part, the antagonist Red, is plated with some relish by Patrick McGoohan. His portrayal is a totally over the top but it fits in with the character and what he is supposed to represent.
It is the driving work that really makes the film memorable. This was before the days when productions had dedicated stunt teams so the action scenes were filmed with the drivers provided along with the vehicles. Some of the driving looks reckless in the extreme but it all adds to the tension. There is a sense that anything can happen at any time.
The film is littered with some very well known faces in supporting roles. Herbert Lom, Sean Connery, Sid James and David McCallum all feature in relatively minor roles. Apart from Lom they are never really given the screen time or character development to make an impact. Still, it is nice to see these actors as they were starting to make their mark in the world of acting.
Overall, a tight British thriller that makes the most of its exciting driving sequences.