Friday, November 9, 2007

Early Connery

1962 moviegoers saw a nattily dressed actor named Sean Connery stroll through a London nightclub, have women swoon and fight over him, and wield a gun as if it were a natural extension of his arm. It’s not “Dr. No”, but a crime thriller he made a year earlier called “The Frightened City.”

I watched it the other night and it wasn’t very good, but it was interesting to see a pre-007 Connery on the other side of the law. In “The Frightened City” he plays an enforcer for the protection racket. You never saw a better dressed enforcer as Connery in this movie, and one wonders if the Bond producers saw it before offering him the James Bond role. I know I’ve read that they screened the Disney film “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” (1959) but that seems an atypical role for them to use a basis to pick their Bond. No, “The Frightened City” seems a more logical choice. You’ve got the London setting, the stylish clothes, the women, the gun. I don’t know if they did screen this film or not, but the evidence is there on screen.

The movie also stars Herbert Lom, and he’s a welcome presence in any movie, but the script is predictable and there’s not a whole lot memorable about it, save for Connery, who already exudes that charisma that would make him one of our greatest latter-day movie stars.

Rating for “The Frightened City”: Two stars.

I also recently watched via TCM’s Sean Connery day back in August a 1957 melodrama called “Hell Drivers” about the rough and ready world of professional truck drivers and their rivalries and jealousies. I was hoping for an English version of the great Warner Bros. trucking melodrama “They Drive by Night” (1940), but I’m afraid the proceedings were too joyless and serious for my taste. However, it did boast a marvelous cast: Stanley Baker, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGooghan, Herbert Lom (again!), Sid James, David McCallum and a brunette Jill Ireland. Connery more than holds his own with these pros, but the 104-minute running time dragged for me. (The thick English accents didn’t help either).

Rating for “Hell Drivers”: Two stars.

The best pre-007 film Sean Connery starred in is arguably “Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure” (1959). Co-starring Gordon Scott as Tarzan and Anthony Quayle, this account of Tarzan tracking down a really vicious gang of criminals through the jungle is one of the best Tarzan movies since the immortal Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan classics “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) and “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934).

Filmed on location in Africa, “Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure” and its sister production “Tarzan the Magnificent” (1960) are long, long overdue for DVD release. Let’s hope Paramount starts digging into the vaults to release these gems.

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