Friday, 22 May 2015

The Hi-Jackers (1963)

The Hi-Jackers is a run of the mill 1963 British B movie that one imagines would often top and tail the bill at the old Roxy of ABC for your parent's generation. It's an Incredibly dated crime flick but isn't without its own charm. 

A young pre-Till Death Us Do Part Tony Booth stars as an independent haulier who does his good turn and picks up hitcher Jacqueline Ellis on her way to London, only to find himself the victim of an accomplished gang of hi-jackers who steal both his truck and his load. Swearing revenge on the crew, the film is largely a back-and-forth game between both him and villains, whilst urbane detective Patrick Cargill investigates with an open mind towards the hi-jack being an inside job. 

The cast is populated by some pretty good and very familiar character including the aforementioned Cargill, Derek Francis, Glynn Edwards, Arthur English and Harold Goodwin - though the Yorkshireman is terribly miscast as a character called Scouse, failing abysmally with the Liverpool accent and shown up alongside the naturally Scouse Booth.


Booth delivers the best turn and is quite charismatic and world weary as an independent long distance lorry driver getting squeezed out of the game as the big firms began to rule the roads and the new motorway systems began to overtake the scenic and slow B-road Britain. It's always a joy to see how these small British supporting features tapped into the situation and changing face of the country at the time and writer/director Jim O'Connolly offers up an interesting depiction of the titular gang that seems to tap into the different consensus the public had towards the underworld at the time in the wake of the Great Train Robbery just four months earlier; no mere opportunists, this operation is run to an extremely practiced and professional standard by Derek Francis' intelligent and cultured middle class mastermind who seems to run an entire network specialising in haulage industry crime, using unemployed working class men with records and at a loose end to do the rough and tumble of the robbery itself. The gang also includes one black member played by Tommy Eytle (a calypso singer at the time but he would later find fame as a regular in EastEnders in the early '90s) whose race is refreshingly never mentioned. This at a time when characters were usually written specifically as black or white - indeed, that's still an issue in film and television to this day.

That said, the middle class crimelord isn't delivered at all believably and, whilst it likely did tap into the post-Train Robbery concerns, it still owes more to the penny dreadfuls that emulated Conan Doyle's Moriarty from the turn of the century. It's hard to view a crime film as seriously as it ought to be when the gang are shown to sit and have a lavish picnic in a lay-by delivered up by their gastronome gangland boss whilst waiting for their target! And, despite Booth's strong lead performance, the action does dip a little when the plot concerns itself with his burgeoning and obligatory romance with Ellis back at his flat.

The Hi-Jackers offers no real surprises, in fact you can see it's twists coming as easily as if they were signposted like the road signs Booth has to follow, but it's a charming low key distraction for a wet Friday afternoon.

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