Tuesday, September 08, 2009

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960): SIMPLY ONE OF THE BEST CAPER FILMS EVER MADE. I can certainly understand why Weaverman returns to it again and again (as it says in his superb review of the film found here). Blessed with an absolutely magnificent cast, faultlessly directed by Basil Dearden from a Bryan Forbes-penned screenplay that alternately sparkles and rivets, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN simply has to have been at least a subconscious influence on that other great British caper film THE ITALIAN JOB several years later. Seriously, I can't think of a thing wrong with this film. Ex-army officer Jack Hawkins (who climbs out of a manhole wearing a tuxedo in the opening scene) has been "made redundant" after serving in the military for years. Stinging from this shoddy treatment, Hawkins brings together a group of similarly down-on-their-luck ex-military men to plan and execute a spectacular daylight robbery of a bank. All the men (whom have never met each other or Hawkins) receive in the post a package containing half of a 5 pound note, a novel called "The Golden Fleece" and instructions to read the book and meet at a hotel to collect the other half of the 5 pound note as well as a fine luncheon and the possibility of an unnamed business venture. The men do show up at the meeting and are, at first, dubious; however Hawkins knows quite a bit about their "sordid" pasts and gains their attention. Eventually, they all come around and agree to attempt the robbery with Hawkins. The film then concerns the planning, rehearsing, and completing of the caper as well as the aftermath. I must say that the actual bank robbery sequence was edge-of-your-seat gripping! All the characters are extremely well drawn with distinct and memorable personalities so the viewer knows exactly who everyone is at all times. An impressive task for such a large ensemble cast. This, of course, owes a lot to the writing as well as the beautifully-cast set of British actors starting with Jack Hawkins (BEN-HUR, BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), Nigel Patrick (allergic to razor blades in TALES FROM THE CRYPT), Richard Attenborough (from BRIGHTON ROCK to directing GANDHI), Kieron Moore (DOCTOR BLOOD'S COFFIN, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS), actor/writer/director Bryan Forbes (also seen acting in QUATERMASS 2: ENEMY FROM SPACE), Roger Livesey (A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH, THE LIFE & DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP), Terence Alexander (BERGERAC), Norman Bird (BURN, WITCH, BURN), and Robert Coote (THEATER OF BLOOD). Hell, there are even small parts featuring Melissa Stribling (HORROR OF DRACULA) and Patrick Wymark (BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW) as well as as small gay camp cameo by Oliver Reed(!). And speaking of gay, Weaverman is quite right in his review of the film when he says that Kieron Moore's character is quite obviously homosexual but he is portrayed perhaps for the first time in film without any stereotypically gay mincing mannerisms or effeminate weakness; in fact, Moore is probably the most rugged member of the cast and dispels any hint of such camp nonsense portrayals that 99% of films at this time would impose on the character. Apart from the suspensefulness of the robbery itself, the film also features some genuinely funny lines: particularly when Nigel Patrick notices a painting of Jack Hawkins' wife and asks if she's dead. "No," Hawkins sighs as he walks up the stairs, "I regret to say the bitch is still going strong!" This scene takes place inside a house Hawkins has stashed away where he and Patrick participate in domestic chores such as cooking dinner and washing dishes. This scene naturally reminded me very much of similar scenes appearing in the classic French gangster film TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI; in fact Hawkins physically reminds me of Jean Gabin in that film. I'll tell ya, I just watched this movie last week and I want to watch it again right now. That's surely the test of a really great film. And THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN passes with full marks. A true classic.

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