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  League of Gentlemen, The They're Trained For This
Year: 1960
Director: Basil Dearden
Stars: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Robert Coote, Melissa Stribling, Nanette Newman, Lydia Sherwood, Doris Hare, David Lodge, Patrick Wymark, Gerald Harper
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: A London street, late at night, and a manhole cover stirs, then lifts up as a gentleman wearing a three-piece suit and bowtie emerges, replaces it, and walks to his car. This is Hyde (Jack Hawkins), who returns to his home in a rundown country mansion in the city's outskirts and proceeds to cut in half a collection of fifty pounds in notes, puts them in envelopes along with a postcard, then places those envelopes in paperback books, all the same copies of The Golden Fleece, a thriller novel. After that, he posts them out to seven recipients, promising the other half of the cash if these ex-military men should not reply, but assemble at a gentlemen's club in town to find out what he has planned...

The nineteen-fifties was a decade where the heist movie truly took off in popularity, both with audiences and filmmakers, as a plethora were made and the genre showed no indication of slowing down come 1960 when the biggest example of the year was released, The League of Gentlemen. It was perhaps better known latterly as the inspiration for the comedy troupe of the nineties and later who all went on to shape the landscape of television, primarily, for decades after, but they simply lifted the title, and did not partake in any daring bank robberies (as far as we know). Back at the start of the sixties, it was clear something needed to shake up the United Kingdom culturally.

The fifties had seen the power of the British Empire all but dismantled, and politically the nation was feeling as if its importance on the world stage was eroded, but come the next decade, it found something else to dominate with: music, film, television, theatre, all the arts which the denizens of Britain embraced and revolutionised the forms. This little item looked forward to that newfound confidence, and back to the doldrums that had given birth to the next generation whose creativity provided so much benefit to the global society, as the characters are under no illusions that something has to change now the Second World War is drifting out of the immediate memory.

Each of the men Hyde recruits had been in the conflict, to varying degrees of success; some disgraced themselves in battle, others found themselves lost afterwards and disgraced themselves later, but the point is they each missed out on the promise that winning had held, and now are thoroughly disillusioned. Hyde offers them a lifeline, a chance to become financially independent, even leave the nation behind to start again, and after a little convincing they agree. This cast were, it hardly needs saying, impeccably performed and chosen as the faded gentlemen, as they all had experience of the armed forces and could understand where their characters were coming from, with the extended sequence where they practice their heist on an Army base presumably most satisfying for the actors and the audience alike.

Hawkins was going to have a difficult sixties as his previous status as one of Britain's biggest stars began to wane, and his chain smoking left him with the cancer that would take his voice and eventually his life, therefore though he was in very good, even classic films after this, The League of Gentlemen was a swan song for his most prominent decade, and he embraced every chance it gave him to shine. It was one of his best performances, humorous, yes, but not exactly a comedy as the heist is deadly serious, as are the reasons for it. Nigel Patrick was impossibly debonair as his second-in-command, and they were both supported by some of the finest thespians available for a black and white thriller directed by the always capable Basil Dearden. That underlying sense of desperation, that injustice that life did not turn out the way they were promised, lent a forward motion to the drama that every actor did well to convey. Yes, there were lighter moments, but the anger, the disappointment, rendered the whole film powerful, offsetting its clever plotting. A heist movie to measure others by. Music by Philip Green.

[Network's next-to-pristine Blu-ray has an audio commentary from star/producer Bryan Forbes and co-star Nanette Newman, documentaries on Forbes and star Richard Attenborough, and an image gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Basil Dearden  (1911 - 1971)

Dependable British director who began his film career working on Will Hay comedies like My Learned Friend, then moved onto a range of drama and comedy: a segment of classic horror Dead of Night, important crime film The Blue Lamp, The Smallest Show on Earth, excellent heist story The League of Gentlemen, social issues film Victim, action spectaculars Khartoum and The Assassination Bureau and quirky horror The Man Who Haunted Himself. Sadly, Dearden died in a car crash.

 
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