Twin Lens Media’s Rare Find of the Week for 2/24/2013: Cy Enfield’s HELL DRIVERS

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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.

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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
Cyril Endfield
Hugh Raker
Charles De Latour
Jonathan Roach

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.

Hell Drivers:

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Twin Lens Media’s Rare Find for the Week of 2/16/13: Abominable Snowman (1957)

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Being a rare media reseller, I acquire many rare VHS and DVD titles. This hunt drives me to get up in the morning. It is not simply in the acquisition of the film, but also the joy it brings me to share these films with the other collectors I come into contact with. Myself and the like-minded seek out the rarities of film, sometimes good, sometimes bad and it is in that hunt I thrive, and in some ways, feel (dare say it) alive.

So, I have decided to attempt a new weekly feature which highlights some of the rarer finds I have acquired within the previous week. I will give my review of the film with the hopes of promoting the more obscure films currently out of print. While they might be a little harder or more expensive to find, these are all specially chosen by me and films I feel deserve the extra effort in seeking them out.

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“They are in danger, all of them, from their own action.”

We start this adventure with another Hammer Studios film, The Abominable Snowman (1957) starring Peter Cushing and Forrest Tucker. Abominable was directed by no stranger to Hammer Studios, Val Guest (Quatermass 2, Quatermass Xperiment) and written by another Hammer alum Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit (TV and film), Quatermass 2, and Quatermass Xperiment). Kneale also wrote the original BBC TV film, “The Creature” this film was based on.

This story centers around the quest of a botanist Dr. John Rollason (Cushing) as he joins an expedition into the Himalayas headed by a brash American (Tucker) in search of the legendary Yeti. Rollason’s quest for the Yeti stems from a scientific curiosity and is frequently at odds with Tucker and his partner, who have monetary motivations for trapping the Yeti and presenting the creature as sensationalistic fodder to the more “civilized” human population.

While I enjoyed the film, I was taken back initially by what appears to be the film’s xenophobia. The “savages” or locals the English scientists continually dismiss as being smelly, superstitious, and ignorant are a constant source of dialogue and used as a dreaded plot device. There is actually a scene where Maureen Connell (Helen Rollason) finds a secret passageway into the Buddhist temple and shrieks in horror at the deepening shadows that are cast from various horrifying Buddhist statues that populate the hallways.

However, this view is taken into question as the subtleties of the characters reveal themselves showing that (of course) the “enlightened” ones are usually the most savage at their core. At the center of this story, we find that not only are the monsters that populate our nightmares in many ways more civilized that we are, but exist outside a framework that would benefit from their inclusion. This is most apparent in the closing moments of the film with the deliverance of Dr. Rollason by a benevolent force once thought savage and ignorant (and I’m sure at some point, smelly as well).

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There is very little screen time given to the creature itself, which works. The adage that showing less of a monster promotes more mystery and terror is a good device that services this film. Especially seeing that when the audience finally is witness to the monster, it is never in its full glory and the portion of the face we do see looks silly. However, with the monster’s face still shrouded in a darkness that hangs about it, it strangely appears legitimate swimming in the darkness of ignorance humans project upon it. This is exemplified in contrast as Cushing stands in full light and in awe of the creature(s) that towers over him both literally and figuratively.

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Like all Hammer Studios films, the acting is superb with Cushing leading the charge. Hammer has never had a problem with presenting a team of consistent and talented actors and this is no exception.

Clocking in at 91 minutes, the film does at times make you feel those minutes. What Hammer lacks in swiftness of plot, it more than compensates in superb performances, intricacies of character and interesting themes. Hammer is rarely short of meditations on the frailties of the human character and because of that always makes their films worth a look.