The Frightened City (1961)


This is a good 1961 British gangster movie that relies on basic and predictable but solid formulas and conventions and is worth watching mainly because of the presence of two greats, Herbert Lom and Sean Connery. It’s a must for fans of those two, and fans of gangster movies won’t be overly disappointed either. The tone is set right from the start as trench coated thugs bust into a smoky club and wreck the joint. It’s the protection racket, striking again but nobody has the guts to say anything about it when the police come around. Herbert Lom, so good in anything, is at his sinister and slick best here, playing a terse, proper and elegant accountant (notice I refrained from calling him calculating), smart and wise, doling out money tips as well as Russian adages (“words are but sands, money buys lands,” he says). After handling some dirty money for a crime boss, talking through the numbers and earnings structure of the half dozen small and poorly organized mobs, Lom figures out a scheme to make bigger and more efficient bucks. He will be the silent top man behind the union of those mobs into a lucrative and democratic syndicate. Meanwhile, what a coincidence, police detective John Gregson prophetically fears just such a union of the mobs.

The group’s got its organizer, now it needs a strong man in the street, a collector and enforcer who’s tough but stable, intimidating and generally nonviolent; fitting this bill is young Sean Connery, former cat burglar who’s retired since his partner and friend Kenneth Griffith ended up crippled after their last caper. Connery joins the new syndicate strictly for the money, but soon lets the power and the attention of Lom’s torch singer girlfriend go to his head. Connery may have collected his woman, but Lom’s a collector of medieval weapons and torture devices, so you can bet those get used in dramatic fashion somewhere along the way.

The syndicate soon grows to threaten larger operations, like retail chains and construction companies. When one of the board of mobsters resists this expansion and goes rogue, things end up getting violent. Things also end up getting personal for Connery when he’s used and made an unwitting accomplice to murder. Detective Gregson and friend Griffith want Connery to turn informer and bring down the whole operation but he’s reluctant; next thing we know he’s escaped; is he running for real, out to get justice, or actually helping the law?

Connery made this while waiting, seemingly forever, to get his big break from Fox. He did this movie on loan to another company and it might have played a part in his changing career momentum. The very next year (and just a few movies later, including The Longest Day) Connery went on play James Bond. This movie almost seems like preparation for that role, with the roguish romancing, cool action and suave look kind of above the average for an underworld enforcer. But that’s not the only thing that links this movie to Bond. Yvonne Romain who plays Anya, Lom’s/Connery’s girl, (also seen in The Devil Doll, Curse of the Werewolf) was married in real life to Leslie Bricusse who wrote the lyrics for Bond theme songs Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice. Another cool music connection is something I’ve tacked on at he end of this post, a live performance of the movie’s theme song done by the (great and influential) Shadows.  The band’s producer Norrie Paramor was the musical director for this movie and makes a cameo as well.

The cast has some great and familiar faces (a few of whom were to be seen in both Bond and Pink Panther movies) like Patrick Jordan, Arnold Diamond, John Stone, and Olive McFarland. The mobsters and molls get decent lines and deliver them with the right amount of snark, like this great exchange:  ”What’s that? / the honorable Clarissa somebody hyphen something, she’s got a family tree a mile high. / Looks like she just climbed down from it.” The police got robbed though, because a lot of their dialogue, especially Gregson’s, is laughably hard boiled. Some of the fights are unrealistic, a grenade tossed in an Italian restaurant has effects so cheap and comical they could almost pass as arty (it might have been the very same thing in the Kiss Me Deadly suitcase) and there are plenty of gratuitous shots of showgirls rehearsing, all things that the movie seem it’s trying hard to be daring and edgy. None of these flaws ruin the whole though, and Frightened City is still very good as a B crime movie, holding your interest and redeeming itself every time Connery and/or Lom are onscreen.


3 thoughts on “The Frightened City (1961)”

Comments are closed.