Saturday, October 12, 2019
My Crime Beat Column: A Look Back At Pre-Bond Sean Connery In 'The Frightened City'
I first saw actor Sean Connery on the big screen back in 1963 when I was 11-years-old. The 32-year- old Scot actor was portraying Ian Fleming’s iconic character James Bond in Dr No.
The James Bond films in the 1960s lead me to read all of Ian Fleming’s novels, which I was happy to discover were darker and more complicated than the films, and I been an Ian Fleming aficionado ever since.
The early Bond films also made Sean Connery one of my favorite actors.
After watching Sean Connery as James Bond, I tried to see all the films he made prior to his portraying Bond, such as Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure and Darby O’Gill and the Little People, both of which came out in 1959.
But there was on film that I was unable to see, which was 1961’s The Frightened City.
But now, thanks to the Internet, I was able to finally see ole Sean appear in a movie that came out only two years before he appeared as James Bond.
The Frightened City is a crime thriller set in the West End of London, where the “villains,” the Brit cop’s slang for criminals, ran protection rackets. (I liked the use of slang in the film, such as “she “shopped” you,” meaning she turned you into the police for favors, and “he won’t “grass” on you,” meaning he won’t become an informer for the police).
Herbert Lom, who was outstanding as a crooked wrestling promotor in The Night and the City with Richard Widmark, is equally outstanding here as Waldo Zhernikov, an urbane, successful accountant and businessman who decides to turn to crime and form an alliance of the six West End extortion mobs into one syndicate.
Although Zhernikov became the head of the syndicate, he decided to stay in the shadows and used one of the local mob bosses, nightclub owner and crook Harry Foulcher, portrayed by Alfred Marks, as a surrogate syndicate boss. The syndicate divided the West End up and the six mobs no longer had to fight over territory. The syndicate also expanded, making more money for the greedy London criminals.
Sean Connery portrayed Paddy Damion, a professional cat burglar who is sidelined due to his partner’s crippling accident on a job. The handsome, athletic and tough criminal is recruited to join the extortion syndicate and he accepts due to his need to help his partner and to bring in money for himself.
Damion also signs up as he was friends with one of the mob bosses, Alf Peters, an old, tough and crafty villain, portrayed by David Davies. Damion and Peters shared a prison cell together and the experience made them fast friends.
Although Damion has an attractive and faithful girlfriend, Damion falls for a French singer at Foulcher’s night club named Anya, portrayed by Yvonne Roman. Anya is a girlfriend of Zhernikov’s, but they have an open relationship. Mostly, Anya wants her patron to get her a working permit so she can stay in London.
Investigating the extortion racket is Detective Inspector Sayers of Scotland Yard, portrayed by John Gregson, who is frustrated as the victims of the extortion refuse to talk to the police out of fear. He later pulls in Damion.
Although Damion is a criminal, he is not a ruthless killer, like Zhernikov and Foulcher. When Zhernikov orders Foulcher to kill one of the syndicate bosses, Foulcher said, “I thought you were against violence?”
“I am against smallpox,” Zhernikov replied coldly. “That doesn’t mean I’m against a vaccination.”
Damion later turns against the syndicate bosses.
One can see a bit of Bond in Sean Connery’s tough guy Damion. When Anya tells Damion that she doesn’t want to make unnecessary enemies, Damion offers a quip, “How many necessary enemies do you have?”
I enjoyed finally watching Sean Connery in The Frightened City.
Now, except for the British TV programs he appeared in prior to portraying Bond, I believe I’ve seen all of Sean Connery’s films. After he quit James Bond, he went on to make some very good films, such as John Huston’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King with Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer as Kipling, and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marion.
Sean Connery portrayed an older Robin Hood who returned from the Crusades and did battle with the Sheriff of Nottingham, portrayed by actor Robert Shaw.
Shaw was terrific as Red Grant, the psychopath killer who went up against James Bond in From Russia With Love. Connery and Shaw’s fight in the train compartment aboard the Orient Express is one of the best cinematic fistfights in my view. In Robin and Marion, Connery and Shaw once again offer a great fight scene, but this time it is with broad swords.
Sean Connery also appeared in other films I like, such as The Hill, The Offense, The Anderson Tapes, The Molly Maguires, Marnie, Woman of Straw, The Wind and the Lion, and Zardoz. Of course, Sean Connery also made a couple of stinkers as well.
He appeared in an awful film, The Next Man, rather than portray Blackthorne, the British sailor who traveled to 12th century feudal Japan in the TV mini-series Shogun. James Clavell, the author of the historical novel the miniseries is based on, said he wrote the character Blackthorne with Sean Connery in mind and wanted him for the role.
Although Richard Chamberlain was very good as Blackthorne, Sean Connery would have been great in the role. Although Sean Connery was great as a Chicago cop in The Untouchables, and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, I didn't care for the film.
Sean Connery is now retired from making films and the 89-year-old is relaxing with his wife at his home in the Bahamas, but his fine films are still entertaining people of all ages.
You can watch The Frightened City via the below links: