Sometimes, the city in which a movie is set plays a role more important than that of the main characters and, over the years, many filmmakers have been drawn to the old school majesty of London. Here are a few films where London—a city of striking contrasts— makes an appearance.
“How dare he make love to me and not be a married man!” So says Ingrid Bergman’s character in Indiscreet. Directed by Stanley Donen and also starring Cary Grant, Indiscreet inverts the age-old paradigm of a man who pretends to be single, by instead presenting us with a single man who pretends to have a wife. Infuriated upon finding out the truth, Bergman’s character seeks revenge. Filmed during the London winter, Indiscreet offers a veritable tour of places to see and be seen, from the exteriors of the Leicester Art Galleries and the Garrick Club to Piccadilly Circus, Thames Embankment at Cleopatra’s Needle, and the foyer and upstairs of the Crush Bar of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
British cinema is typically characterized by either light-hearted optimism or apocalyptic hopelessness. The Day the Earth Caught Fire embraces the later. The Soviet Union and the U.S. have simultaneously detonated nuclear tests and a slew of strange meteorological happenings are spreading round the globe. Shot in Brighton and London, the film uses matte painting techniques to create images of urban abandonment and desolation. Our hero is a reporter at the Daily Express and much of the action unfolds at the Daily Express Building on Fleet Street, as well as at Battersea Park and the HM Treasury Building in Westminster. The London we see here is one of dark foreboding, a city on the brink.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
A mockumentary of the day-to-day life of the Beatlemania-era Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night is probably best remembered for its soundtrack, but the movie also provides a charming, light-hearted romp through the city of London. Filming began at Paddington Station and went on to include location shots at Turk’s Head pub in Twickenham, the Scala Theatre in Camden, Thornbury Playing Fields in Isleworth, and the grand finale in West Ealing. For all its irreverence, A Hard Day’s Night was important in the context of British cinema. As British critic Leslie Halliwell notes: “[It] led directly to all the kaleidoscopic swinging London spy thrillers and comedies of the later sixties.” Casino Royale, for instance.
Casino Royale (1967)
Opinion on Casino Royale is divided. Roger Ebert labeled it “the most indulgent film ever made” while cinema historian Robert von Dassanowsky describes it as “the anti-auteur work of all time.” A James Bond spoof, Casino Royal stars David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, William Holden and Ursula Andress. Admittedly, the madcap-ery here isn’t confined to London and the film’s action spills over into Europe. But, coming hard on the heels of A Hard Day’s Night, Casino Royale captures the same evanescent jollity; the giddy exuberance that rippled typified the city at mid-century
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Hey, remember that evanescent jollity? Yeah, that’s over. Next stop: A Clockwork Orange—a social commentary on psychiatry, youth gangs and a host of other social, political and economic subjects as they relate to a dystopian, future Britain. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and set in London, the film follows our hero— a charismatic, psychopathic delinquent—and his gang of “droogs” as they jaunt about London engaging in acts of ultra-violence. In many ways, the London seen in A Clockwork Orange is not unlike the Paris of Last Tango, though here the bleakness of the city is pushed to even more harrowing extremes.