Category Archives: Stanley Baker

Pulp Friday: Hell is a City

A very quick Pulp Friday offering, Maurice Procter’s Hell is a City, published by Arrow Books, 1957. I am not sure, but this edition may even be the first British release of the novel in paperback.

Procter was a former Manchester policeman turned crime writer, best known for his police procedurals featuring the character of Detective Chief Inspector Harry Martineau, based in a tough fictional northern England industrial town. Proctor penned 14 Martineau novels, which appeared between 1954  and 1969, of which Hell is a City was the first.

Two things have got me thinking about the Martineau books. The first is my PhD research at the moment, which has been looking at the prevalence of American style detective and PI crime fiction in the 1950s in the US, UK and Australia. Procter’s work is different from a lot of post-war British crime pulp, which was set in America.

I’ve also been reading Nick Triplow’s excellent biography of English crime writer, Ted Lewis, Getting Carter (which I’ll be reviewing on this site in the coming weeks).

Among the popular cultural touchstones, Triplow writes, that would inspire Lewis’s work, including the iconic series of British gangster novels featuring the character of Jack Carter, was the 1960 film adaption of Hell is City by Val Guest.… Read more

Sexy Beast: the last good British gangster film

KingsleyOkay, I’m calling it. Sexy Beast is the last good British gangster film.

I was reminded of just how good a film Sexy Beast is – and how anaemic and derivative just about every single Brit gangster film made since is in comparison – after re-watching it on the weekend.

Gary ‘Gal’ Dove (Ray Winstone) is a retired safecracker now living the good life with his illegal proceeds in a Spanish villa with his ex-porn star wife, Deedee (Amanda Dove). Gal wants to do nothing more than sit in the sun with Deedee, and fellow London underworld refugees, Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Aitch’s wife, Jackie (Julianne White).

Their peaceful life is thrown into complete chaos with the arrival of former underworld associate, Don Logan (a stellar turn by Ben Kingsley), a foul mouthed, psychotic gangster, who has come on behalf London crime lord Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), to recruit Gal to help pull a heist Bass is planning.

Gal wants no part in the job, setting the scene for a gradually escalating series of confrontations between he and Logan, who simply will not take no for an answer. Logan’s attempts to bully Gal to take part in the job start humourlessly enough but soon escalate, first in a wave of expletive laden threats, then rehashing the sordid underworld pasts of Deedee and Jackie.… Read more

The heist always goes wrong, part 3: 10 of the best heist films you’ve never seen

payroll-1961As readers of this site know, I love a good heist film, the ingenuity of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star team assembled for the job of a life time or a group of desperate men and women trying for one last big score.

Everyone can name their favourite heist films and, for the most part, it is usually the big name titles such as The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) and the French classic, Rififi (1955). Indeed, I listed these and many other well know heist movies in previous posts on this site, ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 1: ten of the best heist movies ever made’ and ‘The heist always goes wrong, part 2: reader picks and other favourite heist movies’.

But what about the lessor known heist films that are great but which nobody knows about?

To celebrate the release of my second crime novel, Gunshine State, I have compiled the following list of the 10 best heist films you’ve never seen.

operation-amsterdam-poster

Operation Amsterdam (1959)

Operation Amsterdam functions as both a war and a heist film. Peter Finch plays Jan Smit, a British intelligence officer ordered to infiltrate the city of Amsterdam, which is on the verge of being overrun by invading German forces, and prevent the city’s diamond reserves from falling into Nazi hands.… Read more

The 10 essential films of Stanley Baker

Stanley Baker in Val Guest's 1960 thriller Hell Is a City.Welsh born actor Stanley Baker didn’t live to see his 50th birthday, but he left an impressive body of work. Like his friend Richard Burton, he escaped life as a coalminer for acting after a chance sighting in a school play by the casting director of Ealing Studios led to Baker’s first role in the 1943 war drama, Undercover. His rugged physique and hard grace meant he was most often cast as the tough guy in crime movies and spearheaded the evolution of the British film criminal from the gentlemen thief to more ruthless figures, often working-class, in films such Hell Drivers (1957), Joseph Losey’s The Criminal and Peter Yate’s 1967 heist film, Robbery.

Last weekend he would have been 88, were he still alive. To mark his career, I have a piece on the British Film Institute site looking at his 10 essential films. You can read it in full here.

Hell Drivers

Hell Drivers poster01When we think classic noir cinema, we usually think of America. But in the forties, fifties and sixties, Britain produced its share of great noirs.

The British noirs I’ve seen are dark, brutal affairs, perhaps even more uncompromising than their American counterparts because of their depiction of the UK’s all pervasive and claustrophobic class system. Films like Brighton Rock (1949), The Third Man (1949), Basil Dreaden’s heist film, The League of Gentlemen and John Guillermin’s Never Let Go (which both came out in 1960) and the terrific Joseph Losey movie starring Dirk Bogarde, The Servant (1963).

But without doubt one of the best and toughest of the crop of post-war British noirs was Cy Endfield’s 1957 film, Hell Drivers. From the very beginning, the view from the cabin of a truck being driven at dangerously high speed, The Hell Drivers brims with pent up fury.

The plot of Hell Drivers is fairly simple. Tom (Stanley Baker) plays a young working class man fresh out of jail following a botched heist that crippled his brother (David McCallum) and left him with a huge burden of guilt. He takes a job at Hawlett Trucking Company. The work involves him driving a ten tonne truck to a gravel pit, loading gravel, and transporting it to a new construction site, as quickly and as many times a day as they can.… Read more