The League of Gentlemen (1960, Basil Dearden)

“Everything’s prepared. We’ve left nothing to chance.”

A tight, charismatic perfect-crime heist movie. Guys with gambling problems, mean wives, fake personas (one pretends to be a priest) and mounting debts join forces under the instruction of a cranky ex-soldier. Turns out they’re all ex-soldiers, specially selected (aren’t they always) for their former military skills. Two heists ensue – first to get military weapons from a training complex (arguably the more exciting of the two), then a gas-mask assault on the bank (definitely the more photogenic). They’re sold out by an eight-year-old witness, going straight from the celebration party (where nobody tries to scam anyone’s share – gentlemen indeed) to the paddy wagon.

The gang’s (mostly) all here:

The film’s writer (Bryan Forbes) is one of the criminal soldiers, as are the great Roger Livesey (years after his Powell/Pressburger films), Lord Richard Attenborough (Flight of the Phoenix), Nigel Patrick (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman) and Jack Hawkins (The Small Back Room, Zulu, Land of the Pharaohs).

Highly enjoyable little movie by Basil Dearden, about whom I still know nothing because I rented this and didn’t get the liner notes. Here we go: “elegantly crafted… noir-tinged dramas that burrowed into corners of London rarely seen on-screen.” Looks like the other three in the box set were more explicitly about British social problems.

M. Koresky:

A lively crime escapade with melancholy undertones, this examination of the instability of a generation of British men may have appealed to Dearden and Relph’s social sensibility: the film takes place more than ten years after the end of World War II, but its main characters are veterans who have not been able to fully reintegrate into civilian life. They find the normal patterns of postwar behavior alienating—going to work, living with wives and children—and are haunted by nostalgia for the masculine community of wartime.

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