Hell Is a City

Stanley Baker and John Crawford in Hell Is a City (dir. Val Guest, 1960).

Billie Whitelaw.

The coin game on the moors.

Well-shot Manchester noir from Hammer Films that struggles not to be stodgy and sometimes succeeds. Val Guest was the director of the Quatermass films, which I've always found impenetrable. Here he tries hard for an American-style hard-boiled flavor: jazz soundtrack, jaded dames, urban shadowscapes, a cop protagonist who must battle both bad guys and his own demons. The problem, dramatically speaking, is that Stanley Baker's demons mainly consist of his not getting along all that well with his wife.

American John Crawford is good as the main heavy, and Billie Whitelaw as a jeweler's wife getting some action on the side, and Donald Pleasance chewing up the scenery as the jeweler. Has anyone ever suggested that Donald Pleasance might be a stylistic role model for Elvis Costello?

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