I am cheating a little by adding this film to my Rare Find of the week because it is only available as an expensive Region 2 (UK) DVD release and I did not acquire the film on my route this week. However, I was fortunate enough to have seen this film during the Seattle International Film Festival’s (SIFF) Noir City last Friday at its official opening night Cy Enfield double feature and is a film I would recommend to anyone interested in gritty, social examination of England in the 50’s or interested in the rich history of British film.
Hell Drivers tells the story of Joe “Tom” Yateley (Stanley Baker). Tom is an ex-con and he needs a job. He’s a driver, but with his license revoked, his options are limited to shady companies where bosses don’t ask about required papers, only, “How fast can you drive?”. Profits are the game at Hawlett’s Trucking Co. and to fuel the need for the boss’s demands, the drivers devise a game where the fastest driver gets a large purse in the shape of a 22 karat gold case. Tom wants that case and he will do whatever it takes to get it.
Hell Drivers is a time capsule, a who’s who of 50’s iconic British male actors. The film stars Stanley Baker as Tom, Herbert Lom, Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner) with appearances by Sean Connery, David McCallum, Wilfrid Lawson, Sid James, Alfie Bass and Gordon Jackson. The cameos alone are worth the price of admission.
While I enjoyed this film from fade in to out with its tight action, stellar performances and detailed examination of corporate agreed at the expense of its employees; pour moi, it became the story of its director Cy (Cyril) Endfield that became the real story.
Aliases of Cy (Cyril) Endfield:
C. Raker Endfield
Charles De La Tour
Charles De Latour
Cy Enfield was an American director with films that frequently dealt with left-leaning or liberal issues (what a shocker, a liberal Hollywood director). While he had entertained the idea of Communistic ideas in his youth, he was not a card-carrying member of the Communist Party when he was outed (named) during the (HUAC) House of Un-American Activities trial in their “hunt” for “Communist subversives” in Hollywood in the 1950’s.
His lucrative career, which had produced such noir honorables as Sound of Fury and Underworld Story, dried up. No one would hire him in the United States due to the mark on his reputation and in turn, was forced to take work in England.
He quickly became a mainstay within the British film scene working with the best the UK had to offer and even starting a production company with Stanley Baker (Tom Yately in Hell Drivers) in the 1960’s where Baker would star in a total of 6 of Endfield’s films. The most prominent of these being Zulu, also starring a young Michael Caine.
It wasn’t until Stanley Baker’s passing in 1976 that Cy’s desire for film production seemed to fade, leaving him to his other interests: magic (considered to be one of the most competent slight-of-hand artists, Cy caught the eye of a young Orson Welles, who helped to launch Cy’s film career in the first place) and invention that bloomed into a “technical period” which saw Cy invent what was (some say) the first pocket word processing system called the “MicroWriter”. It had rechargeable batteries and a 14-character LCD display. He also manufactured a gold-and-silver chess set as commemoration for a famous match between grand masters Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972. There were only 100 of these produced.
Hell Drivers is a solid film and a precursor to the class-driven, British kitchen sink dramas of the late 50’s/early 60’s. The performances are solid from all involved and help to detail the struggle of workers against entities that wield more power than they arguably should. Cy Endfield knew this all too well.