Hell Drivers (1957)

Stanley Baker stars longside Sean Connery and Herbert Lom in this top-gear adventure film from Cy Enfield. Network UK R2 DVD.

The Film

Tom Yatley (Stanley Baker) is an ex-con desperately looking for a job. Under a fake name he gets a job at Hawlett's trucking firm who have a reputation for ruthlessness, but on the test drive he discovers that they expect nothing short of insane driving to shuttle ballast between sites. Still, he takes the job, desperate for money and meets the rest of the drivers - he quickly makes friends with the Italian driver Gino Rossi (Herbert Lom) but the company foreman and number one driver 'Red' (Patrick McGoohan) makes it clear he does not want friends, just hard workers. When Tom bales out of a brawl on a night out, leaving the rest of the gang to get arrested, he discovers that their animosity can be deadly...

Adapted for the screen by director Cy Enfield himself, Hell Drivers is a dark and gritty film, somewhere between a crime and an adventure film. Written at the beginning of the 'New Wave' of British cinema the script takes a very realist approach to its theme, making sure that before the thrilling truck sequences, we get to know Tom and the fact that he is certainly not a 'squeaky clean' hero. The rest of the characters are very well defined too with none of the usual clichés, and there is enough detail in the group to make an entire television series. There are a few more light hearted scenes with these characters but it never devolves into full comic relief, instead coming across as the desperate attempts of the men to make light of their deadly careers and the grim atmosphere is never lessened. Most impressive for an adventure film, the love themes are very well incorportated into the storyline, becoming an integral part of the plot instead of just being tacked on. Well balanced pacing gives the film time for characterisation and some genuinely exciting action scenes. The climax is really thrilling but it does just seem a little rushed compared to the rest of the film.

As a director, Enfield was clearly inspired by the Film Noir era for many of the film's dialogue scenes with some beautiful portraits of the actors. A fistfight stands out as a real highlight of the film while the truck scenes contain some superb stunt driving and some interesting angles but are sadly let down by some obviously sped up footage and optical effects in the in-cab shots. Hubert Clifford provides a nice contemporary jazz soundtrack mixed in with some dramatic Northern brass in the trucking scenes.
Stanley Baker was on the verge of fame and gained his first top billing here, he excelled at the tough, realist roles and his casting as Tom Yates is simply perfect - he gives a standout performance throughout. The rest of the cast is an amazing collection of British cinema regulars - with a gruff accent and persona, Patrick McGoohan is the polar opposite of his better known Danger Man character but manages to be really convincing. Sid James, many years before his Carry On fame is perfectly cast as the closest thing the film has to comedy relief, while a very young Sean Connery (in only his second film) gives a solid showing.

Herbert Lom made his career playing foreigners of whatever nationality the script called for and this time he is Italian and quite convincing too, with a nice meaty role (for once, a good guy).
Film Noir temptress Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy (1950)) plays the more subtly alluring company secretary Lucy while the BBC's first Doctor Who, William Hertnell is well cast as the company boss and a very young David McCallum (Man from Uncle) has a small part as Tom's crippled brother.

Stanley Baker's break into the (relatively) big time came with this film and it is no surprise to see why. Combining break-neck action with a very solid storyline and backed up with a superb cast of familiar faces, Hell Drivers is a thoroughly enjoyable film and it is a real pity that it could not have been made into a television series, so much potential the format has. Highly recommended to fans of British cinema and a must-see film for any fans of Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan or Herbert Lom for their superb performances. It comes generally recommened to all film fans.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Stanley Baker - the hardened Welsh actor who came to fame with this film and Campbell's Kingdom (1957)
Herbert Lom - a very versatile Czech actor who made his name in British films playing any 'foreign' villain.
Patrick McGoohan - American born but played the quintessential Englishman in the Danger Man TV series.
Sean Connery - a Scottish actor best known for being the first James Bond in Dr. No (1962)
Sid James - soon to become internationally famous as the filthy minded star of the Carry On comedy films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Cy Enfield - a blacklisted American director who went on to work with Stanley Baker on Sea Fury (1958) and Jet Storm (1959) as well as Zulu (1964).
Any gore or violence ? A very rough fistfight and a little blood.
Any sex? None
Who is it for?
A must-see film for fans of Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan or Herbert Lom and highly recommended to British cinema fans. Generally recommended for all film fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Black and White.
The film is very good visually, with no print damage, good detail and only light grain.
Audio Original English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras This two disc set includes:
  • Audio commentary with sound assistant Harry Fairbairn and film scholar Andrew Robertson. Some interesting chat but nothing particularly new.
  • A contemporary promotional television special about the film including interviews with the cast and crew, as well as some very interesting behind-the-scenes shots. (15 minutes)
  • Still photos and film artwork - presented as a video file, good quality and a big selection but sadly no music.
  • Comic strip version - a promotional comic book retelling the film. Very interesting, but the lack of music behind the video presentation makes it a little dull to sit through.
  • The DVD includes .pdf files of the promotional material and the complete, type written, 174 page script.
The set also includes:

  • Who Killed Lamb? (1974) - a one-off television episode (from the makers of the Thriller series) sees Baker in one of his last British based roles, playing a hardened police officer trying to solve the murder of a man who seemed to have no
     enemies. Well written, with good use of flashbacks it is very enjoyable - also stars Peter Sallis. (1 hour)
  • Loyalty Always Pays (1965) - an episode of Patrick McGoohan's classic Danger Man series sees John Drake in Africa sorting out an internal crisis. Well written, with some interestingly modern ideas (black self-rule) and fortunately a genuine cast - no blacked up white actors to be seen. Only a random action scene seems to spoil the flow. Directed by Peter Yates (Robbery (1967)). (50 minutes)
  • Return to the Rhonda - a television documentary from the 1960s presented by actor Donald Houston about the Welsh valleys. Includes a short interview with Stanley Baker talking about his early life, in particular the boxing. Provides a very interesting time capsual of the 1960s Welsh valleys shortly before the collapse of the coal industry as well as a detailed early history of the region. (35 minutes).
  • A television interview with Stanley Baker from 1959 - some interesting details about Baker's early days and some footage from Hell Drivers, Violent Playground (1958) and Sea Fury (1959). Fascinating to see just how staged the whole interview seems - very different to the modern studio style interview segments. (15 minutes)
  • A television interview from the 1960s with British presenter Bruce Lewis - goes into Baker's background although without too much detail (5 minutes).
  • Mute television footage of Stanley Baker in 1970, unveiling a plaque on the house where he was born. (3 minutes)
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Previously available in the UK without any features, also available in various releases around Europe - none with any extras.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



Return to main menu.

All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 7th July 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: