The League of Gentlemen (1960) – A Review
One of my favorite genres of films are heist movies. Typically they follow a template that begins with the setup of a plan being hatched, followed by an eclectic team being assembled, agreeing to work together and then going about planning every detail to make the seemingly impossible crime they’re setting out to commit work seamlessly.
In the final act is the execution of that plan. By then we’re usually so invested in these crooks and have been watching all the painstaking work they’ve put into this heist we end up rooting for them to pull it off. Who says you can’t root for the bad guys?
Turner Classic Movies has been featuring Heist Films this month and supposedly it was the first time they broadcast this quintessential movie in the genre – director Basil Dearden’s The League of Gentlemen. A diverse group of former English army officers receive a strange request to attend a meeting with the promise of receiving payment for the presence. Each man, who is suffering from money problems shows up and are unsure what to expect.
They then meet Lieutenant-Colonel Hyde (Jack Hawkins) who reveals his intention to rob a bank and wishes to recruit each of them for their unique special set of skills that is required for the task. They all sign up, agree to the Colonel’s terms and set about accomplishing this new mission.
This is a fun old fashioned caper flick. One of the things I particularly love about this genre is the planning, creativity and execution of the plan. There’s something I find extremely intriguing where the crooks have to figure out ways around the obstacles, they come up with an inventive steps to circumvent the security during rehearsal and we tensely watch it play out on the big night and hope it all works.
These kind of ‘heists’ were much more satisfying to see in the pre-computer age where knocking off a bank meant a much more hands-on-job. The crooks needed to physically get to the safe where the loot is kept.
Today bank robbing usually consists of using some laptop to download the money into some private account. That might be a less strenuous way to commit a crime and accurate in modern day, but it’s a lot less exciting to watch.
There’s a certain classiness to this gang of crooks. The film falls in the post-war England just before the swinging 60’s hit, so there’s still that old school charm to the characters. They’re all well groomed, smoking cigarettes and not having one hair out of place.
That was one thing that kept me riveted – seeing a young Richard Attenborough with a full head of hair. And I’m not talking about just a little bit, but he has this massive helmet of hair here. It took some getting used to.
I’m not going into the plan and methods with which these guys tackle this bank caper. Part of the fun is watching these type of films unfold and not knowing what to expect. No matter how much care and preparation criminals in heist movies put into their job, there’s always the unforseen that ends up complicating things. Can the guys pull it off? What kind of surprises await them once their plan is implemented. Can they all be trusted?
I will say we learn this crew is quite capable by a suspenseful excursion to an army base where they must liberate some tools which they need for their big job. All the actors are good and the ensemble clicks. Each character has their own motivations for participating, which in turn creates a bond between these ex-soldiers. There’s a certain amount of sympathy you feel for them by learning how these vets have been treated. They do deserve a bit more respect.
Naturally out of the eight men some become more prominent than others in the story. There is an accidental guest towards the end of the film, which felt a bit too strange and convenient, but overall it’s an entertaining film and a worthy addition to the heist genre.