by Blake Backlash
That title seems emblematic of film noir. In so many noirs the city is a malevolent presence, a place that seems both to warp and to be warped by the tortured psyche of the protagonist. If you had to send a telegram summarising the message of most film noir, the curt, four word missive: Hell Is a City, would be a pretty good way to get the job done cheaply.
But a part of what makes this film interesting are the other, non-noir traditions it draws upon. It’s British but it’s a markedly different work than the films I discussed in my MostlyFilm article on Brit Noir, back in March. Significantly, the three films I looked at then are set in London and the South. By contrast, Hell Is a City is set in Manchester. That shift north also brings with it a shift from a heightened reality to an emphasis on veracity. And along with that comes a more serious attempt to more authentically depict the lives of the British working-class.