|The League Of Gentlemen|
|Directed by||Basil Dearden|
|Produced by||Michael Relph|
|Written by||John Boland (novel)
Bryan Forbes (screenplay)
|Music by||Philip Green|
|Distributed by||Allied Film Makers|
The League of Gentlemen is a 1960 British crime film directed by Basil Dearden and starring Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick and Richard Attenborough. It was based on the 1958 novel by John Boland and adapted by Bryan Forbes, who also starred in the film. It was made by Allied Film Makers in two months, and distributed by the Rank Organisation.
In 2006, a restored version of the film was released as a special edition DVD in the UK. The extras include a South Bank Show documentary on Attenborough and a pdf version of Forbes' original script. An audio commentary for the film was provided by Forbes and his wife Nanette Newman who features in the film as Major Rutland-Smith's wife.
In a night-time empty street, a manhole cover opens from below and out climbs Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) immaculately dressed in a dinner suit. He gets into a Rolls-Royce and drives home. There, he prepares seven envelopes, each containing a paperback copy of an American crime novel called The Golden Fleece, half a £5 note and an invitation from “Co-operative Removals Limited” to lunch at the Café Royal.
He posts the envelopes to former army officers, each in desperate or humiliating circumstances. They all turn up for the luncheon. After the meal, Hyde dismisses the waiters and introduces himself — having sent unsigned letters. He then hands out the second halves of the £5 notes, and asks for their opinions of the novel which details a robbery committed by an expert team. When they show little enthusiasm, he expresses surprise given their backgrounds and bluntly asks: “You’re all crooks, aren’t you? Of one kind or another”. Touring the table, whilst pouring out the postprandial brandy, he reveals why they were obliged to leave the British Army and their unenviable present occupations:
Hyde tells them he has no criminal record himself, but does have a grievance for being made redundant by the army after a long career. He intends to rob a bank using the team's skills, with equal shares of £100,000 or more for each man (a large sum in those days). Before leaving, he asks them to consider his proposal seriously.
Major Race follows Hyde home. He is interested, but warns of the need to keep an eye on the others. Hyde agrees, yet insists that each man receive an equal share of the loot, because, “the one, sure way to disaster is for someone to get greedy”. Finally, over dinner, Race agrees, smiles, and announces to Hyde that he is “losing a friend, but gaining a second-in-command”, "I'll settle for that."
The gang meet (under the guise of an amateur dramatic society rehearsing Journey’s End) to further discuss the robbery plan (interrupted by a campy Oliver Reed), before moving into Hyde’s house and living a strict, Queen’s Regulations military regime of duties and misdemeanour fines, ranging from £100 to £500, to be deducted from the haul.
Hyde knows that a million pounds worth of used notes is regularly delivered to a City of London bank and already has much of the finer details involving the delivery. What they need right now is the equipment necessary to pull off the robbery.
The first part of Operation Golden Fleece is raiding an Army Training Camp in Dorset for arms and supplies. The raid occurs while Hyde, Mycroft, Porthill and Race distract the camp soldiers by posing as senior officers conducting an unscheduled food inspection. The others steal the weapons while posing as telephone repairmen, speaking in Irish accents in order to divert suspicion onto the IRA. (At the time the film was made, the IRA had recently staged a number of high-profile raids on British Army camps to obtain weapons.)
After that they establish an operations base in a rented warehouse to prepare vehicles and equipment. Race steals various forms of transport, including cars and a truck, and false number plates are also made. While working in the warehouse, the gang have a nerve-racking experience when a passing policeman comes in and offers to make security checks on the premises during his beat.
In Hyde’s basement, they train and plan with maps and models. On the eve of the operation, Hyde destroys the plans and sighs — the activities having reminded him of his days of military glory.
The robbery is bloodless, and carried out with brilliant military precision. Using smoke bombs, sub-machine guns and radio jamming equipment, the gang carries out a dramatic and elaborate raid on the bank, near St Paul’s. The loot is seized without any serious injury and the robbers escape.
At Hyde’s house, the post-robbery celebrations are tensely interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Hyde’s old friend, Brigadier “Bunny” Warren (Robert Coote), who drunkenly recalls the old days. Meanwhile the team splits up, with the members departing one-by-one. Then the telephone rings: Hyde is told that police and soldiers are surrounding the house.
Leading the police is Superintendent Wheatlock (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) from whom Hyde learns the unfortunate flaw in his plan. A small boy playing outside the bank had been collecting car registration (licence plate) numbers (a common hobby at the time), and had noted the number of the van used during the raid. The police work (not shown) was presumably to investigate eye-witnesses at the scene and, after discovering the number, had cross-checked it with similar van numbers. These included the number of the van noted by the policeman who had visited the warehouse, who, crucially, had also noted the number of Hyde's own private car at the same location. Thus a link was formed between the robbery and Hyde via the number plates of the two vehicles.
Hyde surrenders, and is escorted to a Black Maria wherein are the League of Gentlemen, “all present and correct”.
Allied Film Makers was a short-lived production company founded by director Dearden, actors Hawkins, Forbes and Attenborough and producer Michael Relph. Forbes contributed many of the company's scripts. Dearden had previously directed The Blue Lamp.
The portrait of Hyde's wife (he comments "I regret to say the bitch is still going strong") is a close copy of a portrait of Deborah Kerr which was used in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in which Roger Livesey (The League's "Padre" Mycroft) also starred.
In his audio commentary on the DVD, Forbes points out that in most films of the time Hyde's wife would be described as dead and not dismissed in such as manner. A scene in the script following the dinner party has Hyde, followed by Race, visiting a young teenage girl at school — her photo is also on his desk. It is implied, but not stated, that she is his daughter.
Another notable scene in the script, which did not make the final movie, has Weaver the teetotaller reaching for the brandy after Hyde has left the dinner party. Lexy reminds him that he shouldn't, but Weaver proceeds to drink anyway.
In the original script, Race would address others as "old dear".