Saturday, December 16

Hell Is A City

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Hammer-produced tough crime thriller set in and around Manchester, with extensive use of authentic locations. Stanley Baker stars as Martineau, a hard-boiled police inspector on the trail of escaped convict Starling (John Crawford), who has returned to the city to pick up his stash from a previous theft. Starling gets his cronies together and pulls off a wages snatch which ends in the murder of a young female courier. Martineau, who has some history with Starling, vows to get his man. The film is notable for its bleak outlook, both in its photography and emotional tone, and can be seen as pointing the way forward for a new type of policeman on British screens. With his weary, seen-it-all demeanour, troubled personal life and uncompromising toughness, Martineau is a forerunner of many British coppers who would grace our screens in the years to come – indeed, just two years later Stratford Johns would be making his name as Barlow in the BBC TV series Z Cars, also set in northern England. Unfortunately the scenes with Martineau’s wife (Maxine Audley), in trying to depict the frustrations and inadequacies of a policeman’s life, feel awkward and barely believable – a problem with the script rather than the actors. But many of the characters are nicely drawn and there’s good work from Donald Pleasence as an unsavoury bookmaker and Billie Whitelaw as his unfaithful wife. There’s a host of other British character actors in supporting roles and some taut action sequences which are still gripping to watch even today. Director Val Guest is clearly influenced by some of the American classics of the genre and mostly it works very well. Topped off with a fine score from Stanley Black, it’s definitely worth seeing. Trivia: fans of vintage Coronation Street episodes may be interested to know that Doris Speed, who as Annie Walker was for many years the matriarch of the Rovers Return, appears briefly in the only film she ever made. Blink and you’ll miss her.


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