Through the city night a police car passes under the lights, its occupants there to protect and serve the bustling metropolis.
city night a police car passes under the lights, its occupants there to protect
and serve the bustling metropolis. Hell Is A City – but is it Marlowe’s
LA, or Hammer’s New York?
Inspector Harry Martineau (Stanley Baker) is a charismatic leading man
to rival either of those two. He’s got a nose for a villain, he’s got trouble
at home and he’s got a dame on his case. The giveaway is the accents: the city
of this hard-nosed, pulpy thriller is, in fact, Manchester, 1960.
The villain is John
Crawford’s Don Starling: a ruthless piece of work handy with fists and
menaces. A monster, he squats in the same immoral place occupied by his
American contemporary, Cape Fear’s Max Cady.
Hell Is A City
grips from the get-go – Starling’s out of jail, midway through a stretch for
masterminding a diamond heist. Martineau’s got a hunch that he’ll come back to
Manchester to claim the lost rocks, and he’s right.
On the lam and
desperate, Starling needs a place to stay and cash, so he taps some old faces
for the former, and puts a gang together for the latter. Together they execute
a sting on a bookie – Donald Pleasence, with a Rusholme cadence – and
lose themselves in the Doncaster races.
But the bookies’
secretary dies in the melee and suddenly Don’s on a murder rap with every
copper between Halifax and Barnsley on his case.
bust the gang before Starling kills again?
racy for its time – Martineau’s wife complains her husband is too busy being
good police to make her feel like a woman; Starling’s a psychopath.
The dialogue is
clipped, pared to the bone Mancunian backchat by way of Raymond Chandler.
The people are hardened by war and work.
a grimy glamour in black and white. This England is a foreign country, as close
to the Victorians as to now. In a great scene at a gambling meet, high on the
moor, crowds of men gather to bet on the toss of a coin. They spill from the
back-to-backs like Lowry’s matchstick men and flock up the hill to the sound of
church bells, only to scatter back down when the police show.
Quatermass director Val
Guest, whose CV suggests he could turn his hand to most things, paces with
aplomb, the shadows lengthening as the tension mounts.
Crawford can’t quite hide his US accent he’s a brooding, evil presence. Baker
is as upright as you’d expect –ramrod-straight police and army were keeping
bread on his table long before he stood foursquare against the Zulu.
Hell Is A City
sits snug between noir and the kitchen sink. Have a shufty, chuck, as they say