This scrappy black and white gangster flick from director John Lemont (Konga) mends classic film noir traits with ‘60s Brit film aesthetics into an action-packed racketeer thriller that captivates at a break-neck pace, but fails to rivet emotion due to dissipated drama and too many characters. After opening with a wonderful POV crawl through London, down Shaftsbury Avenue and Charring Cross Road, the script by Leigh Vance (The Black Windmill) unravels a piecemeal tale of how crime syndicates formed and functioned; casting London in noir-like darks and shades in shadowy bars, glitzy clubs, and dank Soho backstreets.
Herbert Lom plays crooked mob accountant Waldo Zhernikov, who plans to merge six London gangs into an all-encompassing criminal conglomerate. However, expanding protection rackets from pubs to construction firms is met with wider retaliation than anticipated. The collective, fronted by rugged Irish gangster Paddy Damion (Sean Connery), shirk corruption, double-crossing, and a Flying Squad inquiry that threatens to topple Zhernikov's plan, while Damion makes enemies, falls in love, and contemplates conspiratorial conundrums.
The script skims through schemes, scenes, and dead-end subplots involving short-lived characters with too short amount of screen time. In terms of production, execution, acting, and atmosphere, The Frightened City prevails as a feisty neo-noir and fascinating snapshot of central London life, showcasing the old bleak beauty of Soho, punch-ups in rough pubs, and lush club/dance hall-based musical numbers. Alongside the urban underworld that, while since romanticised, once stoked fear, this makes The Frightened City a patchy but enthralling insight into sixties London crime life, with the air of those classic German and American film noirs that inspired it.