Hell Is a City (1960)

  |  Crime, Thriller

Hell Is a City (1960) Poster

In Britain, a Manchester police inspector becomes obsessed with capturing a criminal who escapes from prison.

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  • Hell Is a City (1960)
  • Hell Is a City (1960)
  • Stanley Baker and John Crawford in Hell Is a City (1960)
  • Hell Is a City (1960)
  • John Crawford and Billie Whitelaw in Hell Is a City (1960)
  • Stanley Baker and John Crawford in Hell Is a City (1960)

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19 November 2001 | bob the moo
Why do we always try to be like America?
Inspector Harry Martineau is a hard-edged police man in gritty Manchester. When a major criminal, Don Stirling, escapes from jail by killing a guard Martineau makes it his person responsibility to hunt him down. Stirling gets his old gang together to steal £4000 from wealthy businessman Gus. However the theft goes wrong and a young girl is killed and the money begins to leave behind a trail that will lead to the gang.

This desperately wants to be an English 1950's American style film noir. It has the gritty urban title, it has a moody lead actor with an iffy moral code, a pumping jazz soundtrack and is surprisingly tough. It isn't completely successful because of one main problem - it's in England. In Manchester. It's tough even for someone who lives here to take it as seriously as the Bogart-esque equivalents. It's an unfair criticism perhaps but it is off-putting to hear the thick Yorkshire accents in the setting of an urban crime drama.

There is quite a lot to like here. The plot is interesting with gritty levels, the whole idea of the money being dyed and staining hands is a good concept and only seems stretched occasionally and is actually a very effective way of leaving a money trail. The jazz score does give the film a real feel of a urban crime zone, but at times it feels a bit out of place with some of the scenes.

The 2 lead performances are mixed in their roles. Stanley Baker is good as Martineau mixing the role with a bad guy edge by being distant from his wife etc, but he isn't as convincing as his American equivalents. You never are totally convinced that he is anything but a good guy, with his only real faults being his commitment to work over his wife. John Crawford is better as Stirling who benefits from not having an English accent. He plays the violent, cruel criminal well and is totally convincing. It's also good to see Donald Pleasance in a small role as Gus, but his accent is frighteningly thick.

The film is surprisingly tough. I assumed that this would be a lesser film because it's British but this has quite strong language (although not by today's standards) and is very violent considering when it was made. There is quite a bit of violence towards women all of which gives the film a much more believable very tough edge that adds to it's credentials as a crime thriller.

Overall a strong attempt to make a British film noir. It loses something with Baker being too clean-cut in his role and the Manchester setting and accents are hard to line up mentally with the action. But hey - it's pretty good.

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