AS A KID in the 80s I religiously scoured the weekly movie guide looking to find something cool, and one time I stumbled onto a classic British drama called Hell Drivers, which has stuck in my mind ever since as being a good thing. Yes, I was scared to risk a re-watch, just in case the passage of time and my now-adult perspective revealed it was actually shite. Thankfully this wasn’t the case; in fact, I enjoyed Hell Drivers even more!
Petty criminal Joe ‘Tom’ Yately (Baker) is fresh from a stint as a guest of Her Majesty and looking to get his life back on track. He applies for work as a truck driver hauling gravel for local company Hawletts, copping immediate disdain from the nasty and abrasive fleet boss, Cartley (Hartnell), but agreeing to near-impossible employment conditions for the chance to earn a few bob.
Tom joins a crew of misfits and drifters led by the menacing Red (McGoohan), who rules this motley bunch with a violent fist and tears up the narrow, winding backroads in his truck, risking many lives in the process.
Red leads the daily load tally at 18 runs, and it’s not long before Tom is keen to out-drive Red and score the coveted gold cigarette case that’s entrusted to the top driver; rumoured to be worth a cool Ł250, it is just the nest-egg Tom needs to move his life forward.
He soon makes his intentions clear, and decent skills behind the wheel see him pose a serious threat to Red, making him an outcast among the other drivers and a target for bullying and sabotage.
Tom is befriended by another outcast, Gino (Lom), a troubled Italian ex-POW trying to make ends meet socially and emotionally in his new homeland. Gino has the hots for the sweet and sassy office girl, Lucy (Cummins), but she has eyes for newcomer Tom, so a messy love triangle develops that threatens to destroy Tom’s only alliance.
Tom and Gino conspire to beat Red and his boys at their own game, switching truck numbers to give Tom a clear shot at the title. He coincidentally learns of corruption and wage-fleecing by the ever-unscrupulous Red and Cartley, and the stakes are raised tenfold after Gino is killed as the result of sabotage meant for Tom.
Tom takes matters into his own hands, outsmarting Red and Cartley in the most satisfying of fiery finales, proving that even in the 50s, karma could well and truly be a bitch.
HELL Drivers is a hearty, well-shot and thoroughly enjoyable British film offering up solid performances by the grossly underrated Baker and some of the era’s best new talent. Many of the fresh-faced supporting cast would become British acting royalty, with Sean Connery (James Bond, of course), Gordon Jackson (The Professionals), Sid James (Bless This House) and David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) joined by the original Dr Who, William Hartnell. But it’s Patrick McGoohan’s fantastic portrayal of the villainous Red that steals the show; his sinister snarl and edgy stance is matched only his ability to rise from a full-on punch-up, cigarette intact. Interestingly, Red’s truck becomes a clever extension of his persona – a smashed headlight and dinged-up guard makes it stand out just enough from the matching fleet, leaving no question as to who is gunning for you when it fills the rearview mirror. s
VEHICLES: A fleet of 1950s Dodge 100 trucks, 1942 Willys MB Jeep, 1952 Standard 12 utility, 1951 Land Rover Series I, 1946 Morris van, 1952 Vauxhall Velox, 1934 Austin Seven, 1957 Ford MkII Consul STARS: Stanley Baker, Sean Connery, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan, William Hartnell, Sidney James, Jill Ireland, Gordon Jackson, David McCallum, Marjorie Rhodes DIRECTOR: Cy Endfield ACTION: Aggression and intimidation are the name of the game when driving a truck for Hawletts; rubbing bumpers and sideswipes are a daily occurrence.
The finale stunts are impressively cutting-edge for a 60-year-old film PLOT: An ex-con trying for a clean start lands a driving job with a local trucking company. He’s quickly obsessed with breaking the record for most loads in a shift, alienating himself from other drivers and becoming a target for foul play AVAILABLE: YouTube
The fleet of trucks are Dodge ‘parrot-nose’ or ‘Kew’ 100s, built in Kew on the outskirts of London between 1949 and 1957