The Frightened City (1961)

Sean Connery and Herbert Lom star in this enjoyable but flawed British crime film. Optimum UK R2 DVD.

The Film

In London's East End a violent gang wrecks a small pub after the landlord refuses to pay his protection money. When Police Inspector Sayers arrives on the scene the landlord denies everything and puts the damage down to a few rowdy customers. Nightclub owner Harry Foulcher is one of the mobsters involved in the extortion racket and is making some good money, but when he contacts the shady accountant Waldo Zhernikov (Herbert Lom) to help him launder the funds, the accountant sees potential to make a lot more money and works to co-ordinate the actions of the various gangs. They bring in Paddy Damion (Sean Connery) a common thief, but highly respected by the various elements of the underworld, to keep tabs on the men. When the police start to crack down on the illegal activities they find a brick wall against them...

Penned by the little known Leigh Vance and the director John Lemont who also produced the film, Frightened City gets off to a strong start with a vehicular murder (although this is unconnected to the storyline) and a more relevant scene of a protection racket mob trashing a bar - settling the scene and quickly introducing the notion of the business owners being too afraid to talk to the police (hence the film's title). As can be seen, from the very start the script more closely resembles a traditional American gangster film than the social-realist crime movies that were becoming popular in Britain during the 1960s. This is particularly evident in the lack of a 'home life' for any of the characters, aside from a few oblique references, and the primary focus being on the criminal side (most of the British crime films of the era would focus on both sides of the law).

The dialogue throughout is noticably strong - particularly in the scenes with the accountant Waldo Zhernikov who views the whole criminal operation as simply another business opportunity. The way that Paddy's character is presented is also very interesting, seeing himself as a 'straight thief' compared to the violent new mobsters who are now dominating the criminal scene. Unfortunately the addition of the police characters seems to be rather perfunctory, as though they were added into the script at a later stage - they seem to pop up randomly and know far more than they should be able to about the lead characters. The film does build up nicely with a variety of unpredictable twists and turns to a rather unsurprising climax that ultimately seems rather cliché and tame compared to how the film began and the ending would be a lot more interesting if the relevant character had been properly developed.

John Lemont does a decent job with the direction with a few moments of flair - however the film does rather suffer from a lack of location shots that added so much atmosphere to many of the other British Crime films of the era. Although the setting is nominally London it does resemble more of an Anytown for much of the runtime. The soundtrack from Norrie Paramor fits the film perfectly and really helps to set the mood.
Herbert Lom was a familiar face in British cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, usually playing a foreign character to explain his strong accent, this is no exception and as expected he gives a strong performance in a well cast role. Sean Connery does nothing to disguise or explain his accent and seems rather too clean cut to be a career criminal, but plays the part as well as he can. War movie regular John Gregson, however, is very poorly cast as Detective Sayers - he never convinces at all as a rule-breaking police officer and is a major factor in the entire police storyline being ineffective. A selection of character actors fill the remaining roles, look out for the Brit-horror regular Yvonne Romain (mother of the beast in Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf (1961)) as Anya.

Starting off well and with a largely strong script, coupled with two good lead performances, Frightened City sadly does not live up to the better British crime entries from the era and is let down horribly by the awkwardly written and poorly acted police sub-plot. While of interest to fans of the genre it does not come recommended and other titles will make a better starting point.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Sean Connery - the Scottish actor best known as the first James Bond in Dr No (1962)
Herbert Lom - a very versatile Austrian actor who also starred in Brit-thriller Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)
Directed by anyone interesting? John Lemont - a very little known director, otherwise best remembered for the daft giant-ape film Konga (1962).
Any gore or violence ? A few violent sequences, nothing bloody.
Any sex? None
Who is it for?
Of interest to fans of British crime cinema, but not the best entry.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Black and White.
The film is strong visually, with minimal print damage, good detail and only light grain.
Audio Original English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD in the US from Anchor Bay with a good print, also includes the theatrical trailer.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 2nd February 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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