Hell Is a City (1960)

Stanley Baker has one of his best leading roles as the tough cop who tries to make several ends meet – catch a dangerous criminal (American actor John Crawford, very effective) who’s basically his alter ego, save his childless marriage with selfish Maxine Audley, and escape the daily temptation of a fling with the carnal (despite being middle-aged) but genuinely concerned barmaid Vanda Godsell (who also happens to be Crawford’s old flame). Donald Pleasence has an important, scene-stealing supporting role as a bookmaker marked for robbery by Crawford – who had also been intimate with Pleasence’s sluttish young wife (Billie Whitelaw who, despite this being her 12th feature film, was impressive enough to be up for the “Most Promising Newcomer” BAFTA award – and is even featured in a brief but startling nude scene which was promptly snipped for the U.S. version!). The rest of the cast is filled with familiar character actors, many of them members of Guest’s own stock company.

Among the film’s best scenes are the swift alleyway heist towards the beginning (which ends in murder), the wonderful “tossing school” (an illegal form of gambling) scene which takes place on the moors, several grueling interrogation scenes (with Baker often reduced to blackmailing his hard-as-nails ‘customers’) and the remarkably violent rooftop climax. By the way, I wasn’t as displeased as Guest was with the alternate ending included as an extra (and which he had never seen before!) – inverting a couple of scenes and adding a brief hopeful coda (not filmed by Guest) with Baker and Audley – but I totally respect the director’s decision to stick with his uncompromising original vision.