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4.4 out of 5 stars30
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 23 March 2005
Set and filmed in 1960 in and around the city of Manchester, this is a great crime thriller from the early years of Hammer Films. It stars the late great Stanley Baker as Inspector Harry Martineau on the trail of vicious hoodlum Don Starling played by John Crawford. Also look out for Donald Pleasance and a young Billie Whitelaw as a husband and wife who act together again after appearing in the previous year's 'Flesh and the Fiends'.
The film contains some superb location scenes of the city as it then was, trying to revitalise after the German bombing campaign and the rationing depravations after the war. Baker is superb in the role of a gritty police inspector chasing a murderous thug across Manchester and the nearby moors, whilst attempting to come to terms with his fraught marriage to his lonely wife played by Maxine Audley.
Keep an eye out for Warren Mitchell of 'Death us do Part' fame as a travelling salesman and a fleeting appearance of Doris Speed (Annie Walker in Granada TVs Coronation Street) as a hospital sister.
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on 25 July 2006
i sometimes forget that "hammer" didn't just produce horror films every year. others genres covered include thriller(like this one), war, comedy, action/adventure etc.

i haven't seen many "hammer" thrillers, but this is a good place to start.

stanley baker scores as an overworked, frustrated, police inspector who is hunting down a sadistic killer who's broken out of jail and looking for stolen money.

there are a few familiar faces in this one; donald pleasence, billie whitelaw, george a. cooper, warren mitchell.

a tough and somewhat daring film, there is more foul language than i thought, a few minor sexual references and quite nasty violence, but a "P.G" rating is suitable.

it's an added bonus that the film wasn't just based in manchester, but actually filmed there as well. that adds realism.

it is a shame to think that by the mid-60s, stanley baker would end up as the forgotten film star; where as the likes of michael caine and sean connery would prosper to superstardom.

one of the better police thrillers i have seen.
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on 14 April 2012
"Hell is a City" is an amazing, chilling noir thriller - essentially a manhunt between a cop and his nemesis in dark, cloudy Manchester. The opening credit scene, taken from the viewpoint of a police car rushing in the night through the streets of Manchester, immediately grips the audience with its pace and its persistent, rhythmic and jazzy music score. From that moment onwards, the tension is NEVER released and we watch the complex interaction between cops, women and baddies in an interwoven plot that never ceases to surprise. No-one is who he or she seems to be in this picture and everyone is haunted by a past he or she would like to forget. Even the main character, cop Harry Martineau, has to deal with the ordinary ordeals and challenges of life - marriage in his particular case. This picture, Val Guest's best at the stage of his career, carries the stamp of his director, who always tried to maintain as realistic a tone as possible in the most unrealistic situations. This realism helps this very noir drama, but it is also true to say that Manchester and its surroundings play an essential part in the success of this movie. The set pieces in the moors (for the coin-tossing school) and in the rooftops (for the breathtaking finale) take a superior dimension because of Manchester. And then the cast is flawless: Stanley Baker is the haunted cop, brutal and insecure, Maxine Audley is beautiful as his long-suffering but also selfish wife, John Crawford is the ideal psychopath. Bit parts are also very successful thanks to Donald Pleasance, the sexy Billie Whitelaw and the stunning Sarah Branch, who plays the mute girl with disarming facility. Overall a great picture, a masterpiece of Noir British thriller. I recommend the zone 1 Anchor Bay issue miles above the quality of the Studio Canal release, way too grainy. The Anchor Bay includes a commentary with Val Guest. Unfortunately, the commentary moderator, Ted Newson, is not in the same league as Tom Weaver of Marcus Hearn. Despite this minor reservation, you can't live without seeing this movie!
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on 11 September 2010
For those who remember the earlier days of Police films and TV programmes - this is NOT anything like The Blue Lamp and Dixon Of Dock Green. "Hell is a City" is set in the areas of Manchester and Salford, is gritty, true to life, and could be likened to an early relative of "The Sweeney". As one who grew up in Manchester and Salford, you see the cities and their surrounds as they were before the planners and the shopping centres happened - and its entirely right that this is in black-and-white - colour would spoil it.

Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 25 September 2008
My mother used to cringe at black and white films. How she would have reacted nowadays to the appreciative audience of such gems as "Hell Is A City" I shudder to think. Is it not Alex Baldwin who said that all the best films were made in black and white? I completely agree, though there is the odd exception.
Without the benefit of computer graphics and sophisticated special effects, here we have a fast moving police thriller. The wonderful Stanley Baker plays the lead supported by a cast of talented and experienced mega-stars. The film is violent for its time and the music is atmospheric and effective.
If you like these old gritty movies, you will love this one. It ought to be watched by any film buff if nothing more for than to see just how good a film could be made in those days without the frills of modern technology and it is a lesson in good acting. A splendid British attempt at cops and robbers.
I loved the old cars.
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on 1 February 2014
I bought this old film purely because it was filmed in my home city, Manchester, around the time of my (immediate postwar) childhood and I remember as a child watching some of the scenes being acted out on rooftops above the city. It did indeed bring a good deal of nostalgia and enjoyment. The dialogue is quite old fashioned and is delivered at rapid fire speed - perhaps film was expensive just after the war and the actors had been told to act quickly! Also, the acting is a little over dramatic and the policeman's wife has great difficulty maintaining her forced northern accent, but these factors too brought me some amusement. The plot also reflects a time when women who thought themselves middle class expected to stay home all day, sitting, perfectly coiffured and smartly dressed, awaiting their man's return. I had forgotten how many bomb sites there were in the Manchester of my childhood, though these were in fact our adventure playground. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film and shall keep it to show my grandchildren how life was back in my childhood. I'd recommend this for a rainy afternoon's nostalgic viewing. Don't forget the popcorn.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 January 2015
The problem with this picture is John Crawford. He is suitably pugnacious & chilling as the villain, Don Starling, but his American accent, when he is presumably supposed to be a Manchester villain, grates. You've got Donald Pleasance, best known as the genial, posh Blythe in The Great Escape, playing the slimy local bookmaker in suitable tones. Not the first time I've seen him convincingly play seedy. You've got Stanley Baker, being his usual stern no-nonsense self; this time with a Mancunian accent & his personal life failing in the background. You've got any amount of convincing supporting performances. But, in amongst it all, there's this jarring American accent...

Not that that's enough to cost the film a star. Gritty it certainly is, grimy almost; taut & tense too. Dating from the days when story still ruled at least British film-making, not only is everything plausible & believable, you cannot be sure how things will turn out... And there's even an alternate ending on the DVD! This is the second of two Baker films that I bought for holiday watching before the end of the year. The other was The Man Who Finally Died. Like that one, whilst this has one actor whose native accent is audible & out of place, it doesn't materially affect the excellence of the production. In fact, I mention it only so that you understand how little there is to criticise about this little known film!
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on 14 October 2012
Nobody has remarked that this engrossing movie has leapt in price on this reissue...

Meanwhile, there are many eager for the issue on disc of Val Guest's great Jigsaw, made in the same period: the best movie set in Brighton. Draws gasps whenever it is
shown in the town.
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on 19 July 2015
A great little early Hammer noir with a solid performance from the ever dependable Stanley Baker and a lovely turn from the legendary actor Donald Pleasance as a cuckolded accountant. If you know central Manchester then this is a must watch, just to see if you can recognise all the locations. When I watched this a few years ago I realised that toward the end of the film when 2 characters are chasing one-another across rooftops, they were running across the building that was knocked down to make way for the apartment block that I was sitting in at that very moment. Which was cool.
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on 13 June 2013
Its a bit dated but still a good story. Stanley Baker is an excellent actor and he's very good in this as the tough police inspector. Some of it was filmed in the village where I live and as a child of about 10 I went to the area where they were filming every day watching them film the same sequence over and over again, going home every day with my pockets full of chocolate biscuits and sweets given to me by the catering people and crew. It will live on as one of the better Hammer thrillers that isn't full of blood and gore, but still keeps you in suspense.
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