“Chicago Comes To London!”

This black and white crime thriller is headlined by top billed Herbert Lom as the silent partner behind the syndicate who organizes a ceasefire between six powerful mobsters and the structuring of the “protection” racket whereby they can all profit greatly without moving into one another’s territories.

Lom is a wealthy accountant who fixes the books for hoodlum, Alfred Marks. It’s while securing a Visa and work permit for his lady friend and lounge singer, Yvonne Romain, at Mark’s nightclub that Lom hits upon the idea to organize the mobs into one powerful entity. His cut? 20%.

On the topic of one time Hammer Glamour gal, Miss Romain, I can’t help but chuckle at her bio in the Press Book that accompanied the film.

A definite time capsule we won’t be seeing anytime soon with today’s crop of actresses.

In order to run things smoothly they’ll need a man who can play it tough yet smart and only use his fists when needed. Not recklessly as hoods are known to do. It’s at this point director John Lemont will cut to the gym so we can see a powerful looking Sean Connery practicing his karate moves. Let’s make it clear, this is Connery’s film from this point forward and knowing what we know now, he is clearly movie star material and on the verge of becoming famous in all corners of the globe thanks to 007 the following year.

At first Connery wants nothing to do with the syndicate but he’s got an ex-partner in crime played by Kenneth Griffith(s) in need of cash which brings him round to the offer made by Marks and Lom. It also brings him into contact with that French nightclub singer with the olive skin. Let the flirtations begin. This despite Connery already in an implied relationship with the fair haired Olive McFarland.

“The Mutual Protection Insurance Company”

This is what Connery pitches to restaurant owner George Pastell. When the long time character player isn’t interested in what Connery is selling he’ll find a very smooth Connery inflicting damages to his place of business. End result? Pastell asks. “How much is it going to cost me?”

The money is rolling in but there’s a crack in the syndicate when Lom and Marks target a big construction operation to muscle in on. Connery is in fine Bond like form delivering the demands to the company bosses but it’s too big an operation for one member of the syndicate played by the hardened David Davies. He believes going after bigger businesses will lead to their downfall as many of these “marks” will have friends of wealth and power.

It’s time for a turf war when Davies begins to exert physical force outside his territory. All of which leads Lom and Marks to decide that Davies has outlived his usefulness. Their biggest mistake is in using the very “honorable among thieves” Connery to set up a meeting between Davies and Marks for the purpose of a ceasefire. When Marks murders Davies at the meeting, Connery, goes offside and wants his own brand of justice for being used as a pawn to set up the hit.

Now as this is 1961, Connery’s vengeful deeds caught on camera can only go so far and they are justly satisfying for moviegoers of the era. Had the film been made 10 years later in the 70’s I would imagine he’d have left Lom and Marks a bloody mess by the fadeout and damned near unrecognizable for identification by police inspector John Gregson who has been under strict orders by The Yard to crack this Protection Racket wide open.

A good crime drama from screenwriter/producer Leigh Vance that morphs into a revenge flick offered Connery a chance to play tough just two years removed from his turn in the Disney fantasy, Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It also reunited him with Herbert Lom who he had played a minor part alongside in the excellent Stanley Baker thriller, Hell Drivers, released in 1957.

It’s worth noting that the director, John Lemont had two films in theaters during 1961 that are about as far apart as one could imagine. The Frightened City, a tight, crisp crime drama and Konga featuring an over the top Michael Gough (just the way we love him) battling a giant ape in London for the drive-in crowds. Frightened City proved to be his final feature film as director.

The busy character player, George Pastell, also played a part under Lemont’s direction in Konga. Still it’s his work for Hammer Studios that cult fans remember him by. He played the part of the Egyptian Priest who brings Christopher Lee’s Mummy to life in the 1959 classic and that same year was chillingly murderous in The Stranglers of Bombay. On the topic of Hammer, Miss Romain is best remembered for her part as the mute Servant Girl in 61’s The Curse of the Werewolf. She’d make two more films for the studio, Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures) and The Brigand of Kandahar. All three films costarred her with upstart hell raiser, Oliver Reed, though they have no screen time together in Werewolf. Too bad she was never cast in the Bond series opposite Sean as she would have made for a great femme fatale for the super spy.

Herbert Lom has always been a favorite thanks to the Pink Panther series and anytime one gets to sit in on a Sean Connery movie is time well spent with this one offering up a rare opportunity to see him on the cusp of superstardom billed third below Lom and Gregson. It’s also nice to have an original one sheet tucked safely away here in the vault at Mike’s Take.