Hell Is a City


1h 28m 1960

Brief Synopsis

Committed but seen-it-all police inspector Martineau rightly guesses that after a violent jailbreak a local criminal will head home to Manchester to pick up the spoils from his last job. Martineau is soon investigating a murder during a street robbery which seems to lead back to the same villain. Concentrating on the case and using his local contacts to try and track the gang down, he is aware he is not keeping his own personal life together as well as he might.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 1960
Premiere Information
London opening: 9 May 1960
Production Company
Associated British Picture Corp., Ltd.; Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Elstree, England, Great Britain; Manchester, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Hell Is a City by Maurice Procter (London, 1954).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Upon learning that Don Starling, a criminal he sent to jail for jewelry theft, has escaped, Inspector Martineau of the Manchester, England police department becomes obsessed with apprehending the fugitive. Accompanied by Det. Devery, Martineau goes to a pub frequented by Starling to ascertain if owner Doug Savage has any leads on the escaped convict. At the pub, barmaid Lucky Lusk flirts with the inspector, even though she knows he is married. Later, as taxi driver Laurie Lovett, one of Starling's accomplices in the theft, plays pool at the local hall, Starling steps out from the shadows. Desperate for money to flee the country, Starling, the only one of the gang who knows where the jewels are hidden, outlines a plan to rob bookie Gus Hawkins when Gus sends his courier to the bank to withdraw funds to bet on the races. Starling instructs Laurie to contact gang members Clogger Roach and Tawny Jakes and tell them to meet him at Higgitts Passage, a narrow street the courier, Cecily Wainwright, must cross on her way back to Gus's office. Meanwhile, Martineau returns home to his bored, quarrelsome wife Julia, and they argue once again over her refusal to have a baby. The next morning, after Cecily goes to the bank to collect a money-filled satchel, she chains it to her wrist and walks through Higgitts Passage where Starling, Clogger and Tawny push her into their car and drive off. When Cecily starts to scream, Starling kills her, and after detaching the satchel from her wrist, dumps her body in the moors outside the city. They are spotted by a passing motorist who notifies the police, and Martineau is sent to investigate. Noticing that Cecily's fingers are stained with green malachite, a powder that is dusted on bank notes, the inspector realizes that the robbers will bear traces of the dust, too. Knowing that "tossing schools," wagers in which gamblers bet on the toss of a coin, are clandestinely held on the moors, Martineau suspects that the robbers will attend one to wager their spoils. Because Savage runs one of the tossing schools, Martineau thinks that Starling might be involved in the robbery. Martineau's superior, the police superintendent, admonishes the inspector to concentrate on the bank crime and forget Starling, but when the guard who Starling beat up during his escape dies, the superintendent relents and assigns Devery to help Martineau with the Starling case. Martineau sends Devery to interview Furnisher Steele, a cantankerous, elderly furniture dealer who gave the police the information that led to Starling's conviction. As Devery meets with Furnisher and his attractive, deaf-mute granddaughter Silver at their furniture store, the phone rings. Furnisher answers it, and when he hears Starling's voice, hangs up. After Devery leaves, Starling calls again and threatens to harm Silver unless Furnisher cooperates, but the old man refuses to be intimidated. Starling next phones Lucky, with whom he had a brief affair, and orders her to leave her back door open so that he can hide there for the night, but she refuses, telling him that the police are watching her. Later, after Gus's unfaithful wife Chloe kisses her boyfriend good night and enters her house, she finds Starling, an old lover, waiting for her. As Starling and Chloe are about to make love, Gus arrives and Starling takes refuge in the attic. The next morning, when Gus hears noises coming from the attic, he goes to investigate, and Starling knocks him out and flees. Upon learning of Gus's "accident," Martineau asks Chloe who was in the attic, and when she feigns ignorance, he accuses her of harboring an escaped murderer. Alarmed, Chloe admits that Starling was hiding in the attic, and when she mentions that he had green powder on his hands, Martineau's suspicion of Starling's involvement in the robbery is confirmed. Later, as Savage convenes a tossing school on the moors, Clogger eagerly bets his stolen funds. Although the men scatter when the police suddenly appear, Savage is apprehended and brought to headquarters for questioning. Noticing that Savage has green dust on his fingers, Martineau declares that he has evidence that will link him to the murder and threatens to arrest him unless he reveals the names of the gamblers attending the tossing school. After Savage names Clogger, Tawny and Laurie, Martineau goes to the taxi garage to talk to Laurie. When Clogger, who also drives for the company, appears and becomes belligerent, Martineau arrests him and Laurie and opens the hood of Clogger's cab. Hidden inside the engine, the inspector finds two rolls of stolen bank notes. Later, Martineau interrogates Laurie at headquarters, and when he confronts him with the bank notes, Laurie admits that Tawny was also involved. After Tawny is arrested, a postman reports seeing Starling trying to get in the back door of Lucky's apartment. When Martineau goes to talk to Lucky, she is pleased to see him until he tells her that Starling was trying to jimmy her door. Lucky becomes frightened, and when Martineau tries to comfort her, she invites him to come back for a tryst later that evening. After nightfall, Starling sneaks into Furnisher's store, where he has hidden the jewels in a bureau. The next morning, as Silver dusts the store, she notices cigarette butts on the floor and spots Starling. When he tries to grab her, she breaks the window with a piece of furniture and pitches it into the street to attract attention. To stop her, Starling shoots her in the back just as Martineau glances up from the street. Running into the building, Martineau chases Starling across the rooftops. Although Martineau is wounded in the ensuing shootout, he manages to slide down onto the ledge on which Starling is standing. As the two men struggle, Starling topples over the side and Martineau grabs him to stop his fall. Just then, several police officers arrive and arrest Starling after pulling him to safety. Some time later, after Martineau has recovered from his wound and is about to return to work, he has another argument with Julia and leaves the house to walk the streets alone. As he passes the police headquarters, he sees Devery outside, and the detective, who has become enamored with Silver, tells him that she has recovered.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 1960
Premiere Information
London opening: 9 May 1960
Production Company
Associated British Picture Corp., Ltd.; Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Elstree, England, Great Britain; Manchester, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Hell Is a City by Maurice Procter (London, 1954).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The film opens with the following written acknowledgment: "The production of this film was greatly assisted by the full cooperation of the Chief Constable and members of the Manchester City Police Force, for which the producers wish to express their thanks." As noted in the onscreen acknowledgment and in reviews, the film was shot on location in Manchester, England. Although the American release of the film was 88 minutes, the film's British running time was 98 minutes. According to the Variety review, "two or three saltier bits of dialog" were trimmed for the American version.
       A September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Hammer Film Productions acquired the rights to Maurice Procter's novel as part of Hammer's production deal with Columbia. Although Columbia released the picture in the United States, Warner Bros. was assigned the global distribution rights. A modern source adds John Comer, John Harvey and Doris Speed to the cast.