Hell is a City (1960)

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Do you know how long it is since you made love to me?  World-weary police inspector Harry Martineau (Stanley Baker) waits in Manchester for an escaped killer Don Starling (John Crawford) to return for his loot and when there’s a violent jailbreak followed by a street robbery which winds up with the murder of a young woman and her body is found dumped on the moors he thinks his man is on the loose…. This police procedural has a lot going for it, not least the location shooting in Manchester, Stanley Baker’s performance (did he ever give a bad one) and the obsession that drives him. Then there are the women – a louche bunch who don’t mind him at all but he’s got a nagging bored wife Judith (Maxine Audley) who’s basically frigid and wonders why he can’t call her every morning despite being up to his oxters in murder. As Martineau works through his contacts to find the gang and locate Starling he encounters the febrile women in Starling’s life –  randy barmaid Lucky Lusk (Vanda Godsell), unfaithful Chloe Hawkins (Billie Whitelaw) who’s married to Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasence) who’s been robbed, and deaf and dumb Silver Steele (Sarah Branch) the granddaughter of antiques dealer Doug Savage (Joseph Tomelty) who may know more than he’s saying … This is an astonishingly powerful genre work, gaining traction from the toughness, the sadism and the brittle knowing dialogue which goes a long way to explaining the relations between thuggish men and dissatisfied women.  Martineau will say or do anything to stop the carnage. There’s a harrowing mano a mano fight to the near death on the rooftops of this drab city. Adapted from Maurice Procter’s novel by director Val Guest, who is responsible for so many great cult films of the era. There’s a great team here – Hammer producer Michael Carreras, composer Stanley Black and cinematographer Arthur Grant. You’ll shiver when the girl is left on the moors. Manchester. So much to answer for.

Child in the House (1956)


Stanley Baker in a film noir tearjerker? Practically. He’s the estranged career criminal husband of a woman who’s been removed to hospital, seriously ill. Their young daughter (Mandy Miller) has to stay with her aunt Phyllis Calvert and uncle Eric Portman, in a very troubled childless marriage. She’s not enamoured of children, he is.  Father and daughter meet in secret but he’s on the lam again, leading to complications. Cy Endfield (working pseudonymously) was reunited with Miller from the earlier The Secret (starring his fellow blacklistee Sam Wanamaker) but she was of course best known throughout Britain as Mandy from the 1952 film of that name in which she played a deaf mute, with Calvert playing her mother. She also enjoyed fame from her 1956 recording of Nellie the Elephant. She’s a very convincing actress here and continued professionally until 1963 when she relocated to New York, became an au pair and got married. This was the first of Endfield’s collaborations with Baker, which brought us the brilliant Hell Drivers the following year, followed by Sea Fury, Jet Storm, Zulu and Sands of the Kalahari.  This was adapted from the novel of the same title by Joan McNeill, a prolific Irish writer little mentioned nowadays. There is some terrific location shooting – and who doesn’t want to see Fifties London fog?

A Prize of Arms (1962)

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Actor-producer Stanley Baker is one of those great British talents who is little remembered today but played a major role in intelligent film making and died far too young, aged 48.  His tough and powerful persona as cinema’s original hard man marked him out from other actors of the period, establishing himself in Hell Drivers under the direction of regular collaborator Cy Endfield who made Zulu at his behest. This heist film is set against a kind of Suez backdrop when the military’s attention is busy elsewhere and cameraman and later director Nicolas Roeg gets a story credit for the material along with Kevin Kavanagh (with additional material by Roger Marshall) and the screenplay is by Paul Ryder. The structure, with the gang getting together, infiltrating the barracks and then the ultimate in immolation, is classic. An underrated gem. Directed by Cliff Owen.