The Frightened City review – crooks and coppers in a classic London noir

A pre-Bond Sean Connery is among the gifted cast in this 1961 mob drama that takes in the highlights of London lowlife

There’s a blue-chip cast for this tasty 1961 Brit noir, a brash and brassy mob drama in the bright lights of London’s Soho and the West End – the world of Dassin’s Night and the City. Alfred Marks plays Harry Foulcher, a creepy club owner whose supposedly legitimate business is a front for a protection racket, putting the arm on smalltime pubs and dives for a tenner a week. His crooked accountant Waldo Zhernikov, played with gorgeous insinuation by Herbert Lom, persuades Harry to sit down with all the other cauliflower-eared villains to form a profitable London-wide syndicate, to the disgust of the hard-nosed honest copper Detective Inspector Sayers, robustly played by John Gregson. These gangsters need a cool tough guy to collect the larger sums coming in, so they recruit a cat burglar called Paddy Damion, an ordinary decent criminal who needs the money … played by pre-007 Sean Connery.

It’s richly enjoyable stuff and the early-60s London locations are a treat. As so often with this kind of movie, there’s fascination in the quaint club scenes: the racy, naughty, semi-unclothed floor shows in Soho establishments that are frequented by posh gentlemen who like to slum it, the sort of place where someone like Stephen Ward or John Profumo were to be found in Michael Caton-Jones’s Scandal (1989). Waldo has a young woman in whom he takes an almost Ward-like platonic interest: a Russian singer called Anya (Yvonne Romain) who warbles away at the grand piano that Waldo preposterously has in a room adjoining his office. Anya is to fall in love, naturally, with Connery.

It’s all good stuff with some ripe cameos to be savoured by Talking Pictures TV fans. The Frightened City also happens to be the film debut of Stephen Lewis, then credited as Stephen Cato, playing a lanky young Brummie thug – later to be seen playing Blakey in TV’s On the Buses.

• The Frightened City is available on 12 April on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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