The League of Gentlemen (film)
|The League Of Gentlemen|
British quad poster for The League of Gentlemen
|Directed by||Basil Dearden|
|Produced by||Michael Relph|
|Written by||John Boland (novel)
Bryan Forbes (screenplay)
|Music by||Philip Green|
|Edited by||John D. Guthridge|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films (UK)
Kingsley-International Pictures (US)
|5 April 1960|
The League of Gentlemen is a 1960 British crime drama directed by Basil Dearden and starring Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, and Richard Attenborough. It was based on the 1958 novel by John Boland and adapted by Bryan Forbes, who also starred in the film.
A manhole opens at night in an empty street and out climbs Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) in a dinner suit. He gets into a Rolls-Royce and drives home. There, he prepares seven envelopes, each containing an American crime paperback called The Golden Fleece, ten half-£5-notes (i.e. £50 in total with the other halves) and an unsigned invitation from “Co-operative Removals Limited” to lunch at the Cafe Royal.
He posts the envelopes to former army officers, each in desperate or humiliating circumstances. They all turn up. Hyde dismisses the waiters and introduces himself. As a sign of good faith he hands out the second halves of the £5 notes and asks their opinion of the novel, in which a robbery is committed by experts. They show little enthusiasm and he expresses surprise given their backgrounds and asks: “You’re all crooks, aren’t you? Of one kind or another”. Touring the table, pouring out brandy, he reveals why they were obliged to leave the British Army and their unenviable present occupations:
- Major Peter Race (Nigel Patrick), a former transport officer who resigned before his black market ring was uncovered in post-World War II Hamburg. He earns a poor living in unlicensed gambling and lives at the YMCA. He prides himself on his breeding and addresses men as “old darling”;
- Major Rupert Rutland-Smith (Terence Alexander) is the hen-pecked husband of a wealthy young woman who delights in pulling his strings because he depends upon her money. She has affairs to which he can only turn a blind eye;
- Captain “Padre” Mycroft (Roger Livesey) was a quartermaster dismissed for public gross indecency. He is now a con-man impersonating vicars and priests; he also enjoys lewd books;
- Captain Martin Porthill (Bryan Forbes) was dishonourably discharged for killing suspected members of EOKA and now works as a piano player and is a kept man to middle-aged women;
- Captain Stevens (Kieron Moore), one-time fascist follower of Oswald Mosley, is a homosexual running a gymnasium. He needs money to pay a blackmailer (male homosexual acts being illegal at the time);
- Captain Frank Weaver (Norman Bird), formerly of a bomb disposal squad, tried defusing a bomb while drunk, killing four of his soldiers. He has been a teetotaller ever since and owns a small shop fixing clocks and watches, living with his garrulous wife (Doris Hare) and aging father-in-law;
- Lieutenant Edward Lexy (Richard Attenborough), a communications specialist dismissed for selling information to the Russians while in Berlin. He runs a struggling repair shop for radios and fruit machines, illegally reducing the payout on the latter on behalf of criminals.
Hyde tells them he has no criminal record himself but does have a grievance for being made redundant by the army after a long career. He intends to rob a bank using the team's skills, with equal shares of £100,000 or more for each man. He asks them to consider his proposal.
Major Race follows Hyde home. He is interested, but warns Hyde to keep an eye on the others. Hyde agrees, yet insists each man receive an equal share because, “the one, sure way to disaster is for someone to get greedy”. Race agrees, smiles, and says Hyde is “losing a friend, but gaining a second-in-command”, "I'll settle for that."
The gang meet under the guise of an amateur dramatic society rehearsing Journey’s End to discuss the plan before moving into Hyde’s house and living a military regime of duties and fines, £100 to £500, to be deducted from the haul. Hyde knows that a million pounds in used notes is regularly delivered to a City of London bank and has details of the delivery. What they need now is equipment to pull off the robbery.
They raid an army training camp in Dorset for arms and supplies. Hyde, Mycroft, Porthill and Race distract soldiers by posing as senior officers on an unscheduled food inspection. The others steal weapons while posing as telephone repairmen, speaking in Irish accents to divert suspicion to the IRA.
The gang rent a warehouse to prepare. Race steals vehicles including cars and a truck which are fitted with false number plates. They are disturbed by a passing policeman who ironically offers to keep an eye on their premises as he patrols. In Hyde’s basement, the gang train with maps and models. On the eve of the operation, Hyde destroys the plans and recalls his former military glory.
The robbery is bloodless and precise. Using smoke bombs, sub-machine guns, and radio jamming equipment, the gang raids the bank, near St Paul’s. The money is seized without serious injury and the robbers escape. At Hyde’s house, celebrations are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Hyde’s old friend, Brigadier “Bunny” Warren (Robert Coote), who drunkenly recalls the old days. One by one the members leave carrying suitcases filled with notes. Then the telephone rings; Hyde is told that police and soldiers surround the house.
Leading the police is Superintendent Wheatlock (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) from whom Hyde learns the flaw in his plan. A small boy outside the bank had been collecting car registration (licence plate) numbers, a common hobby at the time. The police, discovering the number, found it had been noted by the policeman who visited the warehouse. The policeman had also noted the number of Hyde's own car. Thus a link was established between the robbery and Hyde.
Hyde is escorted to a Black Maria in which the League of Gentlemen are “all present and correct”, each having been captured as he left the house.
Allied Film Makers was a short-lived production company founded by Dearden, actors Hawkins, Forbes and Attenborough, and producer Michael Relph. Forbes contributed many of the company's scripts. Dearden had previously directed The Blue Lamp.
The portrait of Hyde's wife (he comments "I regret to say the bitch is still going strong") is a close copy of a portrait of Deborah Kerr which was used in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in which Roger Livesey (The League's "Padre" Mycroft) also starred.
Forbes points out in his commentary on the DVD that in most films of the time Hyde's wife would be described as dead and not dismissed in such a manner. A scene in the script following the dinner party has Hyde, followed by Race, visiting a teenage girl at school—her photo is also on his desk. It is implied that she is his daughter. A scene which did not make the film has Weaver the teetotaler reaching for the brandy after Hyde has left the dinner. Lexy reminds him he shouldn't but Weaver drinks anyway.
In the original script, Race addressed others as "old dear".
The film was successful, being the 6th most popular movie at the UK box office in 1960. By 1971 it had earned a profit of £250,000
The League of Gentlemen was mentioned in the movie The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963) as one of the films that “Pearly Gates” (Peter Sellers) was going to show his gang of crooks as a part of his training program.
In 2006, a restored version of the film was released as a special edition DVD in the UK. The extras include a South Bank Show documentary on Attenborough and a PDF version of Forbes' original script. An audio commentary for the film was provided by Forbes and his wife Nanette Newman who features in the film as Major Rutland-Smith's wife.
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p103
- In the original script, on the DVD Special Edition, Hyde reveals that he regularly visited a dying bank employee who gave him all the details and that they have stayed the same ever since.
- In the original script, when Hyde reveals his intention to steal from the army, Lexy mutters "Yes, well who would like to play Napoleon this week?... Do me a favour! I mean, how long do they let you out for?", to which Hyde answers "I'm glad your reactions are normal, Mr Lexy. That's precisely the effect I wanted".
- The Aurum Film Encyclopedia, edited by Phil Hardy, published in 1998
- eyeforfilm.co.uk DVD review
- IMDb trivia
- Mews News. Lurot Brand. Published Spring 2010. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- The League of Gentlemen (1960) - The Criterion Collection
- Analysis of the film
- The League of Gentlemen at the Internet Movie Database
- Criterion Collection Essay
- Reviewed on the Mystery*File blog.
- A discussion of The Post-War British Caper Film on the Mystery*File blog by Tise Vahimagi.