Ex-convict Tom Yately takes a dodgy job driving loads of gravel through winding British roads, and realises that sneaky boss Cartley has rigged a scam with the brutal foreman Red, which inevitably leads to human wastage.
Perhaps because it was directed by Cy Endfield, a blacklisted American exile, Hell Drivers is a rare British crime film with the blazing excitement and working-class grit of the best American hardboiled thrillers.
A powerhouse cast of hard men, paid by the load delivered rather than the hours worked, bomb along dangerous country roads, brawl over fish and chips, try to beat the maniacal Red’s record number of runs and crash to their deaths in the quarry. The sorely-underrated Baker was Britain’s own Robert Mitchum, a hardboiled hero who could play sensitive without losing his battered authority, and he has a terrific punch-up with the hulking McGoohan, who plays up the Irish accent and lumbers about dangerously in a navvy coat.
Endfield gets on screen an unfamiliar, wholly credible milieu of pull-in cafes, village dances, works huts, rooming houses, backstreet newsagents and desolate quarries. Besides its authentic feel and action scenes, it boasts a once-in-a-lifetime cast of British film and TV greats: how many other movies have an ensemble which includes the original Dr Who (Hartnell), the first James Bond (Sean Connery), the Prisoner (McGoohan), a Man From UNCLE (David McCallum), a Professional (Gordon Jackson), Clouseau's boss (Herbert Lom), plus Alfie Bass, the excellent Peggy Cummins (of the cult items Gun Crazy and Night of the Demon), the inimitably boozy Wilfrid Lawson, Jill Ireland and Sid James?
Lom overdoes it somewhat as the sentimental Italian obviously doomed to become a plot sacrifice, but the rest of the hairy-knuckled blokes are spot on, and it winds up with an exciting race to the death between overloaded gravel trucks.
Incredible cast in this British crime flick.