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Film / The League of Gentlemen

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A classic British crime comedy, directed by Basil Dearden and released in 1960. Adapted from a novel by John Boland.

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), who resigned his commission just in time to escape prosecution for running a smuggling ring. He now runs an Illegal Gambling Den which is losing money.
  • 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 a nightclub piano player, and gigolo for wealthy middle-aged women.
  • 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:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In John Boland's novel the Gentlemen got away with their crime and appeared in two further novels.
  • 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).
  • Auto Erotica:
    • Lexy sees the girl of the gangster he's working for and suggests he might get Sex for Services. The gangster just scoffs at him. "You couldn't even afford the down payment!" Later after Hugh gives everyone a down payment, he's shown making out with the girl in the gangster's car.
    • Race goes to steal a truck in an apparently empty garage, only to find the driver making out with his girl in the cab, so he has to steal another one.
  • Avengers Assemble: The start of the movie shows the other protagonists receiving the novel sent by Hyde and fifty pounds cut in half, plus a typewritten note inviting them to receive the other half if they read the novel and then turn up for the arranged meeting.
  • Camp Gay: The 'actors' who interrupt the planning meeting, one of whom is played by a young Oliver Reed in his first speaking role!
  • 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: First the theft of weapons from an army base, then the bank robbery.
  • Caper Crew: Lt. Colonel Hyde spent the last few months before his forced retirement going through army files and selecting military men who've been cashiered for various crimes who have the skills he needs. Race (transport), Weaver (explosives), Lexy (radios), Myscroft (quartermaster), Stevens, Porthill and Rutland-Smith (gunmen), and Hyde as Coordinator.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The movie opens with Hyde climbing out of a manhole. He later has his men toss a bomb down that manhole to knock out the power and phone lines to the bank.
    • Shortly before the robbery, Hyde catches a ball thrown by a kid who has a notebook jutting out of his pocket. Then after Hyde leaves a car pulls up and he jots down the license plate. Turns out he took down the fake license plate of the furniture truck as well, as did the policeman who saw them working on the truck earlier.
  • Clothing Reflects Personality:
    • The movie opens with Hyde peering out of a manhole cover near the bank he plans to rob. He then climbs out to reveal he's wearing a tuxedo with bow tie, and walks over to his Rolls Royce that's parked nearby. He should have been disguised as a maintenance man (which several of them are during the robbery) but it sets up the concept of a gentleman involved in nefarious crime.
    • When the Caper Crew turn up at Hyde's place, they're all wearing suits except for Stevens who's wearing a Conspicuous Trenchcoat, given the stereotype of homosexuals being perverts hanging around in parks wearing trenchcoats.
  • Con Man: Padre got his nickname from his habit of posing as a priest. He turns out to be quite good at posing as a general on a surprise inspection as well.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Basil Dearden has an uncredited cameo as Stevens' blackmailer.
  • Cut Phone Lines
    • The army base robbery starts with them calling in about a surprise inspection, then cutting the phone line so they can't get hold of the commanding officer who's off base. Lexy and Stevens then get inside the perimeter fence by posing as linesmen trying to trace the fault, while the fake inspection distracts everyone.
    • The Caper itself involves throwing explosive charges down a couple of manholes to destroy the phone lines from the bank to the police station and security company, as well as knocking out the power to the alarm system. Lexy also jams the police radio frequences.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A lot of the script. A highlight is the dialog between Hyde and Race regarding the portrait of Hyde's wife.
    Race: Is that your wife?
    Hyde: Yes.
    Race: Is she dead?
    Hyde: No, no. I regret to say the bitch is still going strong.
  • Description Cut: When planning starts, Hyde picks up Race who asks if they're going to the gentlemen's club where they first met. Hyde says they're going to war. Cut to...a theatre club where they're posing as actors doing a rehearsal.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Stevens isn't one, but Lexy obviously believes in the trope, given his worry about rooming with him.
    Stevens: Like being back at school, eh?
    Lexy: I sincerely hope not!
  • Dramatic Irony: Hyde rips into Race for bringing a stolen car to the warehouse moments after a policeman has been there. It turns out to be his own car, parked there the entire time, that brings the police down on them.
  • Driving into a Truck: Happens during The Caper to hide the car with the money, with a wooden ramp that they push out beforehand. There's a last moment hitch when the car doesn't have to power to climb the ramp and everyone has to get behind it and push.
  • Emasculated Cuckold: Hyde gives everyone an advance payment and tells them to go home and make excuses to their loved ones for their absence. Rutland-Smith comes home to find his wife in bed with another man. He responds by tossing the money onto the bed like she's a prostitute.
    Smith: (to the man) Here, have this one on the house. I'm just passing through myself.
  • 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.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: As they're backing out of the bank, Hyde has one of the others fire his submachine gun into the ceiling to make it clear what's awaiting anyone stupid enough to try following them.
  • Foul Cafeteria Food: During the inspection Padre demands the cook give him some egg to be sampled. Everyone stares as she scrapes off a rubbery slice of fried egg and puts it on a plate. Which Padre then hands to Hyde to eat. When Race starts smirking at this, Padre has him sample the soup.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Invoked; Hyde thinks the best way to ensure military precision in the crime he's planning is to use ex-servicemen and insist on military discipline.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: Both to conceal faces and so they won't be affected by the smoke screen. Hyde has a speaker rigged up inside his so he can give orders to bystanders during the robbery.
  • Hard-Work Montage: The preparations for the caper, interrupted by a young bobby walking in on them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hyde decides to surrender to the police while Race slips out the back. It's All for Nothing as the police have the house surrounded and have been arresting everyone quietly as they leave, including Race.
  • Hey, Wait!
    • During the theft of the furniture truck, two policemen walk up to Porthill as he's sitting in his car. Porthill readies a revolver...only to be told off for not having his car lights turned on.
    • As the convoy drives to the bank a policeman steps out into the road to block their allow a child to cross the road.
  • 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.
  • Innocent Bystander: Bunny gets arrested along with Hyde, as the police naturally assume he's one of them. Fortunately, he's too drunk to understand what's happening.
  • Ironic Echo: While on his Surprise Inspection Ruse, Padre asks the soldiers in the messhall if they have any complaints, and is told, "No sir!" (Until a barracks lawyer speaks up). Once they get back into the car and have driven away, Padre asks: "Any complaints?" Impressed with his performance they all chime, "No sir!"
  • Just One Little Mistake: "That's what gave you away; your own car!"
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Co-operative Removals Limited, the cover name Hyde uses for the caper.
  • Manly Gay: Stevens, who works as a boxing instructor and is a former soldier and Blackshirt. His homosexuality does not stop Hyde from enlisting him as someone who will take ruthless action if needed.
  • 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. Averted with Race, who immediately pitches in to help with the cleaning.
  • Model Planning: A roofless model of the bank is shown during the Hard-Work Montage.
  • Mood Whiplash: During the post-caper victory celebration, everyone joins in an exuberant rendition of "Soldiers of the Queen" until Padre suddenly realises that someone is knocking at the door. It turns out to be Hyde's former commanding officer-turned neighbour, 'Bunny' Warren, who proceeds to add both comedy and tension to the proceedings with his Motor Mouth ignorance of what's really going on.
  • 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).
  • Oh, Crap!
    • The Faking Engine Trouble trick is used to park a car outside the armory gate. Unfortunately, an Automobile Association motorcyclist happens to come along and stops to help, just when the others are about to emerge with the stolen weapons.
    • A uniformed policeman walks right into their midst while they're preparing the furniture truck for the heist. Hyde gets rid of him and looks around to see if there was anything that might have alerted his suspicions, but can't see anything. Unfortunately the policeman noted down the license plate number of the truck...and the license plate on Hyde's car which was parked in the yard. When a kid with a hobby of collecting license plates notes down the truck's number before the heist, it's enough to lead the police to the ringleader.
    • Hyde's old army buddy, now a neighbour, knocks on the door before everyone has a chance to leave with the loot, but Hyde and Race quickly get him drunk so he's not a problem. Then the phone rings, and from the expression on Race's face he knows it's trouble even before he answers it to find a detective on the other end.
  • 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.
    • Averted with others; while everyone gets involved because they need the money, several make a point of thanking Hyde afterwards, implying that their adventure has given them a chance to relive their glory days and gain self-respect.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Hyde insists that everyone get an equal share of the loot, including himself, knowing that greed could ruin his meticulously conceived plan. Race isn't happy, but agrees to become his Number Two regardless.
  • 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: Just because you're criminals doesn't mean you stop addressing an officer correctly!
  • The Perfect Crime: Until it was all undone by Just One Little Mistake.
  • Perp Walk: Hyde decides to face his end with dignity and leaves the house (supporting a soused Bunny) and walks to the paddy wagon, under the watchful gaze of police and soldiers armed with rifles and portable searchlights. When they open up the paddy wagon for him, he finds the rest of his Caper Crew in there already.
  • Preppy Name: Rutland-Smith. Lampshaded by Hyde.
  • Shout-Out
    • The campy actors want to know if they're rehearsing Babes in the Wood (often done as a pantomine). Hyde claims they're doing the war play Journey's End.
    • During a Rousing Speech Hyde says: "What Price Glory? A hundred thousand pounds each, tax free."
    • When Hyde offers to do his Heroic Sacrifice, Race tells him to knock off the Beau Geste routine.
  • Sleep Deprivation: The night before the robbery, Hyde orders everyone to get a good night's sleep. Cut to everyone still awake in their beds the next morning. Race wanders downstairs in his nightgown to find Hyde still dressed, sitting behind a desk as he couldn't get to sleep either. The only person who has a relaxing night is Lexy who slips out to see his girlfriend, only to get busted trying to sneak back into the house by Hyde and Race.
  • Smoke Out: A smoke screen of noxious fumes is laid down to cause confusion and conceal the robbers, one of whom is nearly gets hit by a car crossing the street after lighting it up.
  • 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.
  • Surprise Inspection Ruse: To provide a distraction while their colleagues steal the weapons from an army base, several of the thieves do a surprise inspection supposedly due to complaints about the food. It helps that the thieves are all former military officers who know just how to act. One of them rings up the base beforehand with a 'tip off' about the inspection so they're too busy running about making sure everything's shipshape to ask questions. They also wait until the commanding officer is off base and cut the phone lines after making the tip off call so he can't be contacted.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Bunny, who turns up to interrupt the robbers' celebration and departure to sunnier climes. Rather than try to get rid of him, Hyde and the others just keep refilling his glass so he'll be too sozzled to remember anything.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: We only see the start of Hyde's lecture on how they're going to steal the weapons. Averted with the bank robbery, 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.
  • We Were Rehearsing a Play: An Invoked Trope; Hyde holds the initial planning meeting in a theatre rehearsal hall, with a pantomime play taking place in the room above and everyone holding scripts.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Hyde roasts Race for stealing a car in broad daylight and is all set to fine him, until Race points out that he needs time to service the car to see if there are any problems with it, so he can't wait till nightfall.
  • Worth It: To maintain discipline, Hyde says he will deduct 100 pounds for minor infractions and 500 for major ones from the offender's cut of the loot. The only person fined is Lexy, who slips out the night before The Caper to see his girlfriend, only to be busted trying to sneak back into the house by Hyde and Race. When Race asks how much of a fine she's worth, Lexy smirks. "Oh, I'd settle for the full five hundred, sir."