The League of Gentlemen (as part of the Basil Dearden’s London Underground – Eclipse Series #25) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
January 21, 2011 by Dennis Amith
In 1960, two heist films were released… America had “Ocean’s Eleven”, the UK had “The League of Gentlemen” and the latter, Basil Dearden’s heist film is an example of enjoyable, fun but yet provocative British cinema. A wonderful inclusion to the latest Eclipse Series “Basil Dearden’s London Underground”.
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TITLE: The League of Gentlemen (as part of the Basil Dearden’s London Underground – Eclipse Series #25)
RELEASE OF FILM: 1960
DURATION: 116 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Monaural, 1:66:1 Aspect Ratio
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: January 25, 2011
Directed by Basil Dearden
Based on the novel by John Boland
Screenplay by Bryan Forbes
Produced by Michael Relph
Executive Producer: Earl St. John
Music by Philip Green
Cinematography by Arthur Ibbetson
Edited by John D. Guthridge
Art Direction by Peter Proud
Costume Design by Joan Ellacott
Jack Hawkins as Hyde
Nigel Patrick as Race
Roger Livesey as Mycroft
Richard Attenborough as Lexy
Bryan Forbes as Porthill
Kieron Moore as Stevens
Terence Alexander as Rupert
Norman Bird as Weaver
Robert Coote as Bunny Warren
Melissa Stribling as Peggy
Nanette Newman as Elizabeth
Lydia Sherwood as Hilda
Doris Hare as Molly Weaver
David Lodge as C.S.M.
Patrick Wymark as Wylie
Gerland Harper as Captain Saunders
Brian Murry as Grogan
After mastering the mix of comedy, suspense, and horror that helped define the golden age of British cinema, Basil Dearden (along with his producing partner Michael Relph) left the legendary Ealing Studios and struck out on his own. In the late fifties and early sixties, he created a series of gripping, groundbreaking, even controversial films that dealt with racism, homophobia, and the lingering effects of World War II, noir-tinged dramas that burrowed into corners of London rarely seen on-screen. This set of elegantly crafted films brings this quintessential figure of British cinema out of the shadows.
The League of Gentleman – Bitter about being forced into retirement, a colonel (wittily embodied by Jack Hawkins) ropes a cadre of former British army men into aiding him in a one-million-pound bank robbery—a risky, multitiered plan that involves infiltrating a military compound. A delightful cast of British all-stars, including Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, and Roger Livesey, brings to life this precisely calibrated caper, which was immensely popular and influenced countless Hollywood heist films.
Basial Dearden, may not be one of the bigger names of classic British Cinema but in his 30 year career, the filmmaker has created 35-films.
With each film, Dearden had an emphasis on storytelling and creating an atmosphere and character but also boldly taking on sensitive issues at the time which include racism, homophobia and middle-class malaise.
And while many may not be familiar with the filmmaker and possibly know more about his son James Dearden (director of “Fatal Attraction” and “A Kiss Before Dying”), Basil Dearden along with writer and producer Michael Relph had managed to create a good number of films which many consider today as British cinema classics but unfortunately were not as accessible on video for viewers in America.
That is until now, as The Criterion Collection will be releasing “Basil Dearden’s London Underground – Eclipse Series #25″, a four DVD set which include his films “Sapphire” (1959), “The League of Gentlemen” (1960), “Victim” (1961) and “All Night Long” (1962).
In 1959, Dearden and Relph joined Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Jack Hawkins and Guy Green to form Allied Film Makers. The first film of Dearden’s for the new production company would be “The League of Gentlemen” shot in 1960 and would star his “Sapphire” lead actor Nigel Patrick, and his fellow Allied Films co-owners Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes and Jack Hawkins along with Rober Livesey, Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander and Norman Bird.
The film begins with Lt. Col. Norman Hyde (played by Jack Hawkins) coming out of a manhole at night into an empty street. He gets into a Rolls Royce, drives home and mails out several books of the novel “The Golden Fleece” and inside each novel (which they are supposed to read), a cut in half £5 note with an unsigned invitation from “Co-operative Removals Limited” for lunch at the posh Cafe Royal.
We then see various individuals receiving the book and learn that some of them are bad financial shape and are in some sort of trouble.
The men all show up to the Cafe Royal and are not sure why they have been gathered but they meet up with Lt. Col. Hyde who starts to ask him about what they thought of the book and not everyone can give a good answer as they didn’t read it or didn’t care for it.
Shocked by their reactions, Lt. Col. Hyde identifies each men at the table are crooked in some way:
- Major Peter Race (played by Nigel Patrick) is a former transport officer who resigned before his black market ring was discovered. He is poor, gambles and lives at the YMCA.
- Major Rupert Rutland-Smith (played by Terence Alexander) is a husband of a wealthy younger woman who pulls his strings because he needs the money but doesn’t like it when she has many affairs with other men.
- Captain “Padre” Mycroft (played by Roger Livesey) is a quartermaster dismissed for public gross indecency and loves his porn and is a con artist assuming various disguises primarily as a vicar.
- Captain Martin Porthill (played by Bryan Forbes) was dishonorably discharged for killing a suspected member of the EOKA and now a piano-player.
- Captain Stevens (played by Kieron Moore) is a fascist who follows Oswald Mosley. He is also a homosexual that owns a gym and pays off a blackmailer who knows his secret that he is gay (which was illegal in the UK at the time).
- Captain Frank Weaver (played by Norman Bird) is a formerly of the bomb disposal squad. He tried to diffuse a bomb and accidentally killed his fellow soldiers.
- Lt. Edward Lexy (played by Richard Attenborough) is a communications specialist dismissed for selling information to Russians and now owns a struggling shop.
Lt. Col. Hyde tells them that they are all corrupt and why he got them together is for their skills. Hyde tells them that he has no blemish on his record but this time, what he plans to do is illegal and is upset that his career in the army has led a to a life of redundancy and wants to rob a bank, utilizing each of their skills and for each man, they will earn £100,000.
Hyde has been monitoring the delivery of armored money trucks to the banks and offers each man to live at his mansion but will be living a military life. If they do not obey the rules, money will be docked from their pay.
Each man feels that with £100,000, life would be better for them and so they agree to work together to rob the bank.
But first, the group needs supplies and hardware and so, their first job before robbing the bank is infiltrating the army training camp in Dorset to steal arms and supplies. The job would be the perfect first test for the group before they go on to rob a major bank.
Will this group of crooked men be able to pull off a major heist?
“The League of Gentlemen” is presented in an aspect ratio of 1:66:1 black and white. The film went through a major restoration back in 2006 and was released on DVD in the UK, while I don’t own that version and can’t provide a comparison, the film does look very good for a 50-year-old film. You do see occasional dust and scratches and it’s important to note that Eclipse Series releases do not get the same attention in clean up as their Criterion Collection counterparts but still, blacks and white levels look very good as do the grays. I felt the presentation of “The League of Gentlemen” looked very good!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The League of Gentlemen” is presented in monaural. Dialogue is clear and I didn’t hear any pops, crackle, hiss or any audio problems.
Subtitles are in English SDH.
Eclipse Series do not come with special features but included on each DVD case insert is a background on the film and information about Basil Dearden and Allied Films.
For many movie fans, when many think about a heist film with an ensemble cast, many tend to think about “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001). But in 1960, as America had it’s original version of “Ocean’s Eleven” in theaters, the UK courtesy of Basil Deadren had “The League of Gentlemen”.
While the two have similarities in that the characters are from the World War II era, the “Ocean’s Eleven” films were more of a vehicle to showcase America’s top talents working together and was more about the talent than its story.
With “The League of Gentlemen”, these were a group of friends who owned their own production studio and have worked with filmmaker Basil Deadren in the past. And what makes this film so much more exciting is that these characters are not trying to be cool, in fact, what makes the film so enjoyable are the characters because they are flawed. They are criminals, deviants and former military officers who have been disciplined or busted for some reason but yet, they are put together by Lt. Col. Hyde who sees their skills as important to the goal of pulling off the ultimate heist.
Each character has their distinct characteristics and the way that they were written, there is good enough character development to understand these characters, their backgrounds and how they all fit into this complex group that has been formed.
While this film probably would have more of an impact on those who watched it back in 1960 in the UK and saw how Britain has changed but Dearden, never afraid to take on any controversial subjects manages to have characters that are gigolos, a con-man dressed up as a priest, a homosexual (reminding everyone that during this time, homosexuality in Britain was a crime and people used homosexuals by blackmailing them and getting payment in order to not go with threats of making their lifestyle public) and those who were quite literally con-men of the worst kind.
But these were all former soldiers who could not live in society after the war. For some, while in the military, they have done unfortunate things to their own countrymen. The life they lived after their military service was not kind to them and thus they chose to live a life of crime (or a lifestyle that was seen as deviant) or swindle someone for their money.
The primary focus of the film are character relationships and the cast was brilliantly selected. The performances by each of the men are incredible and while many can say that they loved all characters, for me, the performance by Jack Hawkins as Hyde, Nigel Patrick as Race and Roger Livesey as Captain Mycroft are well-done. The storyline is witty but its storyline and ending is convincing and does show that crime does not pay.
The first mission the group has by infiltrating the military camp was quite interesting, especially finding out that they intend to put the blame on the IRA. For those familiar with British and Ireland relations, would understand how shocking that was probably back then.
As for the heist, one again, very intriguing and for me it’s enjoyable of how methodically, and how thorough they go through the planning phase for the actual heist.
Without having to spoil too much of the story, I will say that “The League of Gentlemen” is a wonderful and enjoyable film. Although not one of this films that is primarily focused on polemicizing a hot topic on what is happening in the UK at the time, considering “Sapphire” is focused on racism and “Victim” is focused on homosexuality as a crime, “The League of Gentleman” does touch upon a few things that are hot topics due to the deviant group that have been assembled. Yes, their is anti-homosexual and sexist behavior featured in the film, but it is not as focused on as in other Deadren films (which are fortunately included in the “Basil Dearden’s London Underground” DVD set).
Nevertheless, “The League of Gentlemen” is an exciting film and a great classic of British cinema and I’m quite grateful for its inclusion in this Eclipse Series for Basil Dearden.
Note: The review is for the film and not the entire DVD box set for “Basil Dearden’s London Underground”.
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