Saving my personal favorite for the wrap up of ….. Mike’s Take on Stanley Baker Movies ………… Day 12
Some movies have a way of staying with you and after watching Hell’s Drivers for just the second time after a span of 25 years or so between viewings, it still scores a hit and for my money is the film that best uses the Stanley Baker presence on camera. I suspect I’m not alone in this opinion. Thankfully a superb blu ray edition has been put out in the UK by Network chock full of bonus materials.
“I’m not looking for trouble unless I’m pushed.”
A classic line that matches Stanley Baker’s persona perfectly and pushed he will be in this riveting tale of men driving gravel trucks in what amounts to a slave operation. Looking for work at the opening of the film, Baker approaches a trucking company that isn’t exactly a welcoming operation to a new man. Making enough headway in the front office, he’s given a trial run which in itself should be warning enough to look for work elsewhere but Baker seems to be a man hiding a past with no future prospects meaning any job will do. The office secretary played by Peggy Cummins takes a liking to the sharp edged Baker face and they’ll be fencing with each other throughout this Cyril Endfield directed film.
Let the hazing begin when Baker meets his fellow company drivers who must make a minimum of twelve runs daily to hold their jobs which only promotes the most reckless driving one is likely to see on any country road. A list of well known faces populate the driving force which include a pre fame Sean Connery, Sidney James, Gordon Jackson, Herbert Lom in one of his most likable roles and starring as the company’s top dog and all around son of a bitch, Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan takes an instant disliking to the quiet reserved Baker who he can somehow sense might be the one man to challenge his authority around the gravel yard.
Once the daily runs begin, Baker realizes that through his bullying tactics, McGoohan rules the road and no one gets in his way. For McGoohan it’s a daily race to prove his prowess behind the wheel and he let’s no man get in his way which doesn’t sit well with Baker who quickly gets caught up in wanting to outrun McGoohan to claim the most truck loads delivered in one day. It isn’t so much an ego thing either with Baker. He has no real interest in becoming the company champ, he just wants to displace McGoohan from that spot and we the viewers quickly get caught up in rooting for him to do just that.
Dropping a couple more names in the cast, how about young starlet Jill Ireland as the pretty girl working the counter at the local pub who we’ll get to see dancing up a storm at the Saturday night dance with the soon to be James Bond and her eventual off screen husband David McCallum turning up in a major plot point to let us all in on Baker’s mysterious past. Once his background is unveiled, you’ll be rooting all the more for Baker to take down his nemesis on the road ways.
Baker does little to endear himself to the gang and when he refuses to join in a brawl at the dance, he becomes a social outcast to all concerned other than Herbert Lom who Baker numbers as his one and only friend. Lom shines here as the loyal pal, Gino the Italian member of the gang and it’s a role Lom could proudly add to his resume of characters. While he may be a tragic figure, it’s hard not to hope that he’ll capture the heart of the one girl he loves in a triangle that never interferes with the main thrust of the plot.
Once Baker has had enough, the film reaches a new height in tension when he finally approaches McGoohan and calmly tells him, “You’re scum.” Our hero has been pushed far enough and he’s looking to even the score. If this scene and the anticipation that’s been building for it doesn’t get you sliding forward to the edge of your seat, then I guess you’re not into this film as much as I. The brawl begins but it’s just the tip of the iceberg once the confrontation takes to the roads in one hell of a finale.
Hell Drivers is a dream movie for those of us who like “tough guy movies”. It’s unique in it’s backdrop and I can’t honestly recall another movie like it. It’s also proof that we don’t need someone running around with a gun each and every time to call it a tough guy flick. This one has all the action 1950’s audiences could hope for when spending their money at the box office and after having immersed myself in a total of twelve straight Baker films it’s a perfect way to conclude my own private film festival.
Should you pick up that blu ray edition of Hell Drivers, there is much to recommend it. A booklet, nostalgic interviews with Baker as well as a TV appearance in a mystery theater type show from 1974 titled Who Killed Lamb? and much more. Of course you’ll have to have that all region player if you’re sitting in North America like I am.
Either way, go find this film in any format and experience the thrill of riding alongside Baker in the cab of his truck, Number 13.