Hell Drivers is a film about lorry drivers in the late 1950s, heavily influenced by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, which came out a few years earlier and was a smash hit across Europe (it was trimmed down for the US market). Tom (Stanley Baker) is a criminal just released from prison and in search of a job. He is taken on as a driver for the local quarry, where drivers are supposed to do at least twelve 20-mile rounds per day on terrible roads. Drivers are also expected to cover their own speeding tickets. The crew all live together in a boarding house, and eat and drink across the street in a small café, so they’re together all day long at work and again at night, leading to conflicts. The boss is corrupt, so between his working conditions and the boss, Tom is in a bad situation.
Tom is accepted by the driving crew except for Red (Patrick McGoohan), the violent Irish foreman. Red offers a gold cigarette case to any driver who can do more runs in a day than he can, and Tom is desperate to be the winner. It all ends in a violent climax.
Baker was always an interesting British actor, but McGoohan steals the show with his depiction of a truly evil character. Hell Drivers also gave Sean Connery one of his first major film roles—it’s ironic that he ended up alongside McGoohan, as the two were later in competition for the role of James Bond (which McGoohan famously turned down).
Directed by Cy Endfield, who also directed Zulu and Mysterious Island, the film throws together a weird combination of British realist cinema and French existential film, but it works. It moves at a fast pace, with well-choreographed and energetic driving scenes.
The disc is completely loaded with extras. It includes a new transfer done by the BFI, a commentary track, a making-of featurette shot during the production, an interview with Stanley Baker, an episode of “Who Killed Lamb?” with Baker, an episode of “Danger Man” featuring McGoohan, and more Baker-related material. The release is rounded off with a booklet with writing by Dave Rolinson.