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League of Gentlemen, The (1960)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of League of Gentlemen, The (1960)
35mm, black and white, 113 mins
DirectorBasil Dearden
Production CompanyAllied Film Makers
Released byRank Film Distributors
ProducerMichael Relph
ScreenplayBryan Forbes
From a novel byJohn Boland
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
MusicPhilip Green

Cast: Jack Hawkins (John George Norman Hyde); Nigel Patrick (Major Peter Graham Race); Roger Livesey (Mycroft); Richard Attenborough (Edward Lexy); Bryan Forbes (Martin Porthill); Kieron Moore (Stevens); Robert Coote (Bunny Warren)

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Ex-Lieutenant Colonel Hyde gathers a team of crooked ex-servicemen, all specialists in their field, to rob a bank.

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Something of an update on the Ealing tradition, The League of Gentlemen marked the debut release of the consortium Allied Film Makers (AFM), combining the former Ealing producer/director partnership Michael Relph and Basil Dearden, as well as Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Jack Hawkins and his brother. Almost all the AFM partners had a hand in the film, with Relph producing and Dearden directing, while Forbes wrote the script and acted alongside Hawkins and Attenborough. The National Provincial Bank, along with the Rank Organisation, provided much of the group's backing, which is rewarded in the film with an in-joke: contemplating his leader ex-Colonel Hyde's bank-robbing plan, ex-Major Race worries, "I do hope he hasn't the National Provincial in mind. They're being awfully decent to me at the moment."

With a star-studded cast and witty script, the film was a huge box office success, but beneath the comic caper's surface humour lay a subversive vision of disillusioned ex-officers prepared to steal a just reward for serving their country - a theme not dissimilar to that of Dearden and Relph's earlier postwar drama, The Ship that Died of Shame (1955), which also starred Richard Attenborough. As Hyde wryly comments on their redundant military training, "...I think it's a crying shame for so much public money to be wasted. I intend to put it to some practical peace-time use." More akin to a band of crooks than a League of Gentlemen, their pretence of respectability masks a more dubious, avaricious nature, yet they remain sympathetic, with the League granting a new sense of purpose, albeit a dishonest one, to their fractured lives.

Despite the dark comic tone, sometimes bitter dialogue and the parody of army conventions, the film's resolution conforms to the moral status quo, with the League's members each falling prey to the police. As in Ealing's The Lavender Hill Mob (d. Charles Crichton, 1951), however, there is little sense of justice having been done; our sympathies lie with the rogues, not the police. The League, ultimately, is less a malevolent criminal force than a boys' club, with its own rules and sense of camaraderie. When, at the end, Hyde sees his League accomplices waiting in the police van, ex-Major Race offers the respect society has withheld, saluting and informing the ex-Colonel "All present and correct, Sir."

David Morrison

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Video Clips
1. 'I intend to rob a bank' (3:16)
2. Preparation (2:36)
3. Bunny Warren (03:30)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)
Attenborough, Lord Richard (1923-)
Dearden, Basil (1911-1971)
Forbes, Bryan (1926-2013)
Harper, Gerald (1931-)
Hawkins, Jack (1910-1973)
Livesey, Roger (1906-1976)
Newman, Nanette (1934-)
Proud, Peter (1913-1989)
Relph, Michael (1915-2004)