Saturday, 11 July 2009

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960)


I've totally lost count of how many times I've watched THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN since I first saw it in a cinema back in 1960. Of course, I'm talking about the Basil Dearden directed film starring Jack Hawkins and not the more recent unrelated television series. For me it is one of those films that I turn too again and again when I can't decide what else to watch or I just need cheering up. It's a heist movie in the tradition of such films as RIFIFI , THE KILLING and THE ASHPHALT JUNGLE but very different in mood to any of those. Jack Hawkins plays a disaffected ex-army officer who decides that he is going to rob a bank and to this end gathers around himself a group of life's losers - who all have a talent that he can use for his criminal venture. And what a crew it is! Truly, one of the great strengths of the film is the casting of the gang with a selection of top British character actors : Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Roger Livesy, Bryan Forbes, Keiron Moore etc. The film is very single-minded in as much as the whole film (except for a flashbacks to the reasons why the various members of the League are happy to turn to crime) is seen entirely from the point of view of the gang from the recruiting and planning, to the execution of the robbery and the final climax - which makes for strong audience identification (I know as a 14 year old watching the film I was very attracted to the idea of robbing a bank!). Each gang member is given a distinct personality - from Terence Alexander's cuckold to Keiron Moore's homosexual - the latter being a particularly interesting characterisation in that, probably for the first time in an English film, a gay character is depicted as masculine with no hint of campness and without any of the weaknesses that films of the time usually assigned to gay characters (usually only hinted at - and played for laughs - if at all) so that when one of the other gang members makes a tasteless remark both audience and the other characters frown upon his crassness. The film opens with a memorable pre-credit sequence featuring Jack Hawkins, immaculately clad in Dinner suit emerging from a manhole in the street. When I worked in London I used to pass this particular manhole (situated in Eastcheap) every day on my way to the station and, of course, bored my friends to death pointing out this little bit of film history. The bank that the gang robbed was also situated in Eastcheap and I still own a small piece of brick that I rescued as a momento when the building was demolished in the 1990s. Tensely directed by Basil Dearden (an almost forgotten figure in British film history who I will be writing about soon) THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMAN is a classic. Rating ****



4 comments:

Cerpts said...

Ashamed to say that I've never seen this film and feel all the poorer for it. I'm sure American TV stations would rather show the umpteenth rerun of FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR or FULL HOUSE than offer us a film of this quality. Why did we throw that tea in the harbour again????? It certainly wasn't for better TV programming.

Weaverman said...

0h you poor yanks! I suppose one of us poor Brits will have to send you a care package including this movie, maybe TARZAN AND HIS MATE and a couple of Mars Bars. I just can't bear to see you suffer.....

Cerpts said...

Oh that's right!!!! You still HAVE Mars bars over there. You know what they tried to pull on us poor Yanks (I don't often get to use the words "pull" and "yank" in the same sentence)? They have this thing called "Snickers Almond" or something which they say is just a Mars Bar repackaged. But I've had one of these. One. And I'm here to tell ya that I know Mars Bars. . .I've met Mars Bars. . .and YOU sir, are no Mars Bar!

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

I must admit that I have never seen this movie either. However just today I bought a dvd set which has The League of Gentlemen as well as The Million Pound Note and Genevieve. So I'm looking forward to some free time on the weekend to watch it.