A classic British crime comedy, directed by Basil Dearden and released in 1960.
Involuntarily-retired Lieutenant-Colonel Hyde recruits seven other dissatisfied ex-servicemen for a special project. Each of the men has a skeleton in the cupboard, is short of money, and is a service-trained expert in his field. The job is a bank robbery, and military discipline and planning are imposed by Hyde and second-in-command Race on the team, although civilian irritations do start getting in the way.
The team consists of:
- Lieutenant-Colonel Hyde (Jack Hawkins), the leader and mastermind, who has no criminal record, but sets up the operation because he's disgruntled about his forced retirement and low compensation at the end of his years of service
- Major Race (Nigel Patrick), a Professional Gambler and Card Sharp who resigned his commission just in time to escape prosecution for running a smuggling ring
- Major Rutland-Smith (Terence Alexander), a young man of aristocratic background who married a society beauty who rescued him from some embarrassing debts, and now holds him on a tight leash and openly cuckolds him.
- Captain "Padre" Mycroft (Roger Livesey), a former Quartermaster dismissed for public indecency. Post-war, he works as a Con Man, and has a specialty in impersonating a clergyman.
- Captain Porthill (Bryan Forbes), dismissed for killing enemy prisoners who were members of EOKA, he now learns a living as The Piano Player and a gigolo.
- Lieutenant Lexy (Richard Attenborough), a communications specialist who was dismissed for selling secrets to The Russians, and now works as a mechanic with a sideline of rigging slot machines for criminals in the casino industry.
- Captain Stevens (Kieron Moore), a burly former follower of Oswald Moseley, who left that movement before it made a black mark on his record, but was later dismissed for homosexuality (then illegal) and now runs a gym and deals with a persistent blackmailer due to his orientation.
- Captain Weaver (Norman Bird), a former bomb-disposal specialist and alcoholic, who caused the death of four soldiers due to being drunk on duty. Post-war, he has become The Teetotaler, and lives a quiet life running a clock/watch repair shop.
This film introduced a lot of the tropes now common to The Caper and the Impossible Mission. Not to be confused with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or The League of Gentlemen, although the titles of both reference this film.
Tropes present in this work include:
- Armed Blag: Discussed, but written off as too "dangerous and messy" compared to robbing the bank itself.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: the previous crimes of the men range from being drunk in charge of bomb disposal (causing the deaths of four soldiers) and executing suspected terrorists without trial, to not paying excessive bar bills and being homosexual (illegal at the time). Also counts as Values Dissonance.
- Avengers Assemble
- Bavarian Fire Drill: The "surprise inspection" of the army base.
- Camp Gay: The 'actors' who interrupt the planning meeting, one of whom is played by a young Oliver Reed!
- Camp Straight: Race, an implied womanizer who refers to other men as "old darling" and thanks to his mother, is good at cooking and housekeeping.
- The Caper
- Con Man: Padre
- Creator Cameo: Director Basil Dearden has an uncredited cameo as Stevens' blackmailer.
- Deadpan Snarker: A lot of the script. A highlight is the dialog between Hyde and Race regarding the portrait of Hyde's wife.
- Depraved Homosexual: Stevens isn't one, but Lexy obviously believes in the trope, given his worry about rooming with him.
- Driving into a Truck: Happens during The Caper to hide the car with the money.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: All of the characters who work for a living have one of these post-War.
- False Flag Operation: The gang speak in Irish accents so the IRA will get the blame for the army base heist.
- From Camouflage to Criminal: The entire team is made up of military officers who have either turned or are turning to crime.
- Gas Mask Mooks
- Heroic Sacrifice: Hyde decides to surrender to the police while Race slips out the back. Turns out the police have the house surrounded and have been arresting everyone quietly as they leave, including Race.
- Incredibly Obvious Tail: Following the introductory meeting, Race follows Hyde's car to his home, but doesn't do the best job of it (since he's more used to be tailed himself than doing it to others), and is stopped by pot holes Hyde had dug into his property, expecting that one of the group would follow him.
- Just One Little Mistake: "That's what gave you away; your own car!"
- Manly Gay/ Straight Gay: Stevens, who also has some elements of Hard Gay, given his post-war profession.
- Men Can't Keep House: True of Hyde, who is separated from his wife and lives alone in a mansion, subsisting on ready-made food from cans and rarely cleans up dishes and doesn't keep the place particularly neat.
- Mildly Military: Invoked; Hyde thinks the best way to ensure military precision is to use ex-servicemen and insist on military discipline.
- Model Planning
- Murder Simulators: In-universe, Hyde gets the idea for the plan from a crime novel and expects the others to be similarly inspired when they read it (they aren't, although they are interested once they learn of his plan).
- Only in It for the Money: This is Lexy's motivation, and it is implied that he escaped more serious punishment for selling secrets because he was motivated by greed rather than Communist ideology.
- Quintessential British Gentleman: Ironically invoked by the title of the film, since the protagonists either are or become criminals. However, Hyde and Race neatly fit into the trope being cultured and unfailingly polite military officers.
- Permission to Speak Freely
- The Perfect Crime: Very nearly. All undone by Just One Little Mistake: a kid collecting license plate numbers.
- Perp Walk: including The Reveal that they've already caught everyone else.
- Preppy Name: Rutland-Smith. Lampshaded by Hyde.
- The Scrounger: Major Race.
- Smoke Out
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: One persistent theme (or at least Hyde's perception) is that the group are members of the old guard who don't fit in/are unappreciated in 1960's England. Made somewhat questionable by the fact that except for Hyde, all of them are in a bad position due to criminal behavior (sometimes quite serious) or bad personal choices.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The inspection. Averted with The Caper, which works despite being explained in full.
- Villain Protagonist: The protagonists are likable underdogs who plot the perfect robbery and who start out the film in bad circumstances due to past crimes and/or sordid behavior.