Hell Drivers

Vintage movies have given us several parameters for measuring masculinity: being a professional pilot (good), taking out a gaggle of Nazis single-handedly (better), driving trucks at devil-may-care speeds along the most dangerous routes imaginable (off the charts). That’s what the he-men in Cy Endfield’s nail-biter do for a living, hauling heavy loads of ballast through treacherous terrain. Naturally, these gents vie to see who can make the most runs, and the newest employee—a drifter named Tom (Baker)—is determined to prove he’s king of the road. But he’s got to watch out for the company’s on-the-prowl secretary (Cummins)…the same one dating Tom’s only friend (Lom).

This is the stuff that B-movie dreams are made of, and Hell Drivers does its damnedest to deliver bottom-of-the-bill bliss. Rough, urgent cynicism is the name of the game; there’s precious little Hawksian camaraderie, only capitalism and cutthroat competition, courtesy of brutish alpha male Patrick McGoohan. (The cast also includes a young Sean Connery, thus offering peeks at a bizarro world in which Inspector Dreyfus romances Gun Crazy’s Annie Starr while James Bond and Number Six start dance-hall brawls.) Endfield’s tale of tough guys under pressure isn’t top-tier, though it is unjustly neglected; like its antiheroes, the film moves at a full-throttle pace and hugs the curves remarkably tightly.