League of Gentlemen, The (1960): Dearden’s Crime Heist Movie–British Style

TCM showed the movie on September 8, 2020

Versatile Brit director Basil Dearden directed The League of Gentlemen a British criminal comedy, starring Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, and Richard Attenborough (who later became better known as director of the Oscar winner Gandhi).

It is based on the 1958 novel “The League of Gentlemen” by John Boland and adapted by Bryan Forbes, who also starred in the film.

Cary Grant, who hails from London, was offered the part of Hyde but turned it down.

Notable after a string of strong performances (such the 1957 Oscar winner, ” The Bridge on the River Kwai”), Hawkins plays Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde, a man first seen climbing out of a manhole, dressed in a dinner suit, before getting into a Rolls-Royce and driving. We are left speculating as to his identity and destination.

Back home, Hyde prepares 7 envelopes, each containing an American crime paperback called The Golden Fleece, halves of ten £5-notes and an unsigned invitation to lunch at the Cafe Royal.

The envelopes are sent to former army officers, each stuck in desperate circumstances. When they all turn up looking for the other halves of the £5-notes, Hyde asks their opinion of the novel about a robbery. Their lack of enthusiasm prompts Hyde to reveal each person’s misdemeanors.

Hyde, who has no criminal record but holds grudges for being made redundant by the army, He intends to rob a bank using the team’s skills, with equal shares of £100,000 for each man.

The gang meet under the guise of amateur dramatic society rehearsing Journey’s End to discuss the plan before moving into Hyde’s house and living a military regimen of duties. Hyde knows the details of a million pounds being delivered in notes to a London bank.

Using smoke bombs, sub-machine guns, and radio jamming equipment, the gang raids the bank near St Paul’s, and the robbery is bloodless. At Hyde’s house, celebrations are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Hyde’s friend, Brigadier “Bunny” Warren (Robert Coote).  The members leave carrying suitcases filled with notes, when the phone rings and Hyde is told that police and soldiers are around the house.

Leading the police is Superintendent Wheatlock (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) from whom Hyde learns the plan’s flaw. A boy outside the bank had been collecting car license plates as a hobby. The police had also noted the number of Hyde’s car, which establishes a link between him and the robbery.

Hyde is escorted to a police van, which has the other members, each captured as he left the house.

Commercially successful, the movie was the sixth most popular movie at the UK box office in 1960, but less appealing abroad; it was released in the U.S. in 1961.

Old-fashioned in text and style, the movie,–a sampler of British Cinema of Quality–the movie boasts an expertly-constructed script, replete with a particularly droll British humor, which may explain why it was so popular at home and less so overseas.

Trivia:

The portrait of Hyde’s wife–“I regret to say the bitch is still going strong”–is a copy of a portrait of Deborah Kerr, used in “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” in which Roger Livesey (“Padre” Mycroft) also starred.

The magazines in Mycroft’s suitcase were borrowed from the set of Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom,” which was shot at the same time.

Reel/Real Impact

The book and film inspired Alan Moore’s comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and its spin-off movie, as well as the British comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen.

Cast
Jack Hawkins as Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde
Nigel Patrick as Major Peter Race
Roger Livesey as Captain “Padre” Mycroft
Richard Attenborough as Lieutenant Edward Lexy
Bryan Forbes as Captain Martin Porthill
Kieron Moore as Captain Stevens
Terence Alexander as Major Rupert Rutland-Smith
Norman Bird as Captain Frank Weaver
Robert Coote as Brigadier “Bunny” Warren
Melissa Stribling as Peggy
Nanette Newman as Elizabeth Rutland-Smith