THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, armed with a crew of England’s top enunciators, gambled on larcenous loot in 1960, the same year America’s ‘Rat Pack’ cased Vegas casinos in Ocean’s Eleven. While our homeboy Holly hoods cleaned up with a #10 hit, the Brit break & enter didn’t register in the States, yet was the 6th most popular picture back in the U.K. Leaving the laundering of movie money trails to those called to find facts or frazzle, the winner-takes-all in this happy instance is whoever is lucky enough to come across this delightful caper, directed by Basil Dearden, the crown jewel of his ‘London Underground’ run. *
Embittered over being discarded after a long military career, former Lieutenant Colonel ‘Norman Hyde’ (Jack Hawkins) conceives a plan to relieve a London bank of funds sufficient to even the grudge. He summons a group of ex-officers, each of them in some sort of financial, career or otherwise embarrassing/compromising strait. Though temperaments, manners and inclinations differ, shared circumstances conspire to mesh, putting to work their assorted skills and background in precision action.
“When we leave our card, we shall have to provide the authorities with a scapegoat. In this case, I’m relying on the British character. We British will always give the Germans, the Russians, the Japanese, or even the Egyptians the benefit of the doubt, but NEVER the Irish. So, throughout this exercise, if we use our accents judiciously, the IRA will get the credit, and the blame.”
The inimitable Hawkins league of gents: Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesy, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes (who wrote the screenplay from John Boland’s novel), Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird. Excellence in abundance with dandy, well-defined characterizations, crackling, acerbic dialogue, and that seductive plot elixir that allows us to sympathize with the creative lawbreaking: who can’t relate to, at some time or another being being stiffed, sullied or stuck?
Among the familiar faces in the supporting cast, new lad Oliver Reed, 21, has a funny uncredited scene as a ‘flaming’ actor. With Robert Coote (in bluster mode), Melissa Stribling, Gerald Harper, Nanette Newman, Patrick Wymark, David Lodge, Nigel Greene, Norman Rossington and John Richardson. 114 minutes that beats the
craps pants off Oceans Eleven—with Frank’s permission, naturally.
* Working with producer Michael Relph, unsung director Dearden (Khartoum) made a quartet of mores-tweaking pictures dubbed ‘London Underground’: the others, more serious in nature, are Sapphire, Victim and All Night Long. Cogerson’s “Ultimate Movie Rankings” doesn’t even list ‘League‘ on its 1960 roundup, which includes more than a dozen Brit imports, and your diligent diviner can find no more box office stats other than the above-mentioned 6th-place in the U.K. There is some info on the cost, which appears to have been £192,000/$537,000, in 2023 akin to £5,657,000.
NOT to be confused with 2003’s ten-ton wanker The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.