The League of Gentlemen (1960) – Basil Dearden

 

The recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of Rififi continue with this delightful, British crime caper, starring Jack Hawkens, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey and Richard Attenborough. The crux of the plot is a group of ex-military men gathered up to pull of a perfectly timed and organized bank heist. Based on the novel by John Boland, this brings the genre to life in a wonderfully, stiff-upper-lip way.

Jack Hawkins, as Hyde, begins to reach out to a number of ex-military men that have all been dishonorably discharged and living, of not on the edges of society, well, they at least share property with it. Taking his cue from a pulp novel that he sends out to each of them, he has a plan to rob a local bank and walk away with enough money to afford them all a nice get away to a small island in the tropics.

Along with a copy of the book, with instructions to read it, and meet him for lunch, he includes  fifty pounds, cut in two, with the promise of the other halves should they join him for lunch and listen to his plan. During the lunch he reveals that he knows all about each of them, the terms of their service and discharges, and how they live their lives now. He convinces them to help out on the robbery, and says that they can make it work if they treat it like a military exercise…

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He berths them all in his home, assigning them each quarters, and a rotating schedule of duties, and gets them running with the precision of a Swiss watch. To help them in the robbery, they decide they’ll need a high-caliber of weapon than that available to the common crook, so they hit a military base’s armoury – this is probably my favorite sequence in the whole film, it’s fun, it’s well-paced, and just watching this group of gentlemen work together is a treat. It also lays down a false trail of who the crooks may actually be.

And even when the heist itself goes off without a hitch, and everything seems to be going as smoothly as it can be, little errors, and slip-ups may cause the game to be lost completely. But how will everything turn out? Will they get away with things? Will they descend into violence or will they confront everything with that unflappable British cool, the grace of gentlemen?

This ended up being a sheer joy to watch, and once again, one of those films that I had never heard of. The story just rockets along, the cast is a lot of fun, and it was a lot of fun to see the crime drama put through its paces, married, quite nicely to the perceived image of the English gentleman.

Very fun, and worth it alone for the military base sequence…

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