Caught green handed in Hell is a City.
Monday 8 October marks the digitally remastered DVD release of the 1960 classic Hammer film Hell is a City. Back when it was originally released it was nominated for best screenplay and most promising newcomer for Billie Whitelaw (The Omen, Frenzy) at the British Academy Awards. Hammer studios are, of course, best known for their horror films, however, early in their history, they produced a number of noir-style features.
Based on Maurice Procter’s 1954 novel - the first in a long series of Inspector Harry Martineau books - Stanley Baker (Zulu, Accident) plays the Inspector, a dedicated and seemingly all round nice guy (although his wife does not seem to think so). He hears that a criminal, Don Starling (John Crawford; The Enforcer) he arrested five years previously, had escaped prison, killing a warden in the process. Soon after bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasance; Halloween) is robbed and Martineau begins to connect the two events.
Writer/director Val Guest was certainly prolific, often making several films a year in the fifties and sixties, but is probably best known for the scenes he directed for the original Casino Royale, a handful of early Hammer Horror, and even has a Robin Hood feature to his name, The Men of Sherwood. He brings Procter’s gritty novel to life and uses the actual Manchester locations effectively – including a thrilling end chase on the city’s rooftops. The film is not overly dated, either, visually or in its performances. The acting is really strong, particularly from Baker and Crawford, and the violence and language is rather graphic for the time it was made.
DVD extra features include an alternate ending, which is has an unusual order switch on a couple of the scenes and then finishes with a scene that gives Martineau and his wife more closure, of which Guest did not like and, apparently, didn’t even film. Thankfully, this did stay as the alternate, as it seemed a bit forced and out of character for the film. An enjoyable British noir, Hell is a City is definitely worth a look.
Hell is a City is released on DVD on Monday 8 October through STUDIOCANAL.