Monday 3 April 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare rediscovers one of the great unsung Brit action noirs HELL DRIVERS

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Herbert Lom and Stanley Baker butch it up as a couple of fur lined/ leather jacketed brother truckers in Cy Endfield's knock-yer-socks-off crime drama Hell Drivers from 1957. The screen is from a spanking new Network/ITV/Canal Blu-ray derived from a terrific HD encode which appears to be sourced from original horizontal 8-perf VIstavision elements. Hence the dazzling, razor sharp high contrast brilliance of the B&W image in this rarest of beasts, a B&W VIstavision movie. Others include Fear Strikes Out (Robert Mulligan, 1956), and Short Cut to Hell (1957), the latter directed by James Cagney. Interestingly Network has taken the AR back to an original narrow-ish 1.66 which was the first screening format theatrically for the more common 35mm non Vistavision reduction prints, rather than recent DVD releases which were masked to (TV-friendly) 1.78.

On paper the drama looks like a cross between Clouzot's Le Salaire de la Peur (France, 1953) and Walsh's terrific 1940 They Drive by Night but Endfield focusses on the internal conflict within the team of drivers in substantially adapting his own screenplay from a short novel by John Kruse.

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The movie also pivots around a battalion of new supporting players, most who later blossomed in Brit Television, some for the first time in movies including David McCallum, Patrick McGoohan, a baby Sean Connery, William Hartnell (the first Dr. Who) and the wonderful already established Gordon Jackson (from The Strange Affair, David Greene, UK, 1968 ) as well as Jill Ireland in her debut and the sublime Peggy Cummins in the middle as love interest between Gino (Lom here mustachioed) and Tom (Stanley Baker.)

The movie bristles and pumps with conflict and deception between the men, which Endfield choreographs much as he does other alpha male group pieces like Zulu (UK, 1964) and Sea Fury (UK, 1958). Endfield's own devotion to the all male core of the conflict removes the film's tone from Noir to something much closer to Losey on a psychological sphere, and on a larger scale. HIs career needs quite some re-appraisal.

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