Released from prison and seeking anonymity, Tom Yately takes a job with Hawletts – a firm of unscrupulous haulage contractors who stretch both drivers and regulations to the limit.
Stanley Baker stars (in his first leading role) as the ex-con driving lorries at perilous speeds to meet the deadlines, who uncovers a racket run by his unprincipled manager, Mr Cartley (William Hartnell).
The haulage firm has won a contract to transport loads of track ballast from a quarry to a building site ten miles away and operates a bonus system under which the drivers receive seven shillings a load and four shillings an hour.
They are expected to deliver a minimum of twelve loads a day.
If they achieve this target (and some drivers achieve more) they can make a good working wage, but they can only achieve it by driving at dangerously high speeds along narrow country roads – something to which the company turns a blind eye.
The drivers all live in the same boarding house and eat at the same café. Tom makes a friend in Italian driver Gino (Herbert Lom) but alienates the others when – afraid to do anything that might violate his parole – he refuses to join in when they get involved in a brawl with some local youths at a dance hall.
Tom’s particular enemy is Red, the violent and bullying foreman (Patrick McGoohan), who takes great pride in the fact that he can make eighteen runs in a day. Tom becomes fixated on the idea of beating Red, and it is their rivalry which is the focus of the film’s plot.
There is also a subplot about a love triangle involving Tom and Gino, who, despite their friendship, are in love with the same girl.
The supporting cast is top class – a veritable Who’s Who of British actors who would go on to find fame on the big and the small screens, none more so than a young, pre-Bond Sean Connery.
This gripping British thriller is given a cutting edge of social reality by former Hollywood director Cy Endfield (billed here as C Raker Endfield), who relocated to Britain in 1953 after falling foul of HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee).
Endfield and his star Baker would go on to collaborate to even greater effect when they made Zulu (1964) together later.
Tom (Joe) Yately
C Raker Endfield (Cy Endfield)