Lieutenant Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) prepares seven packages for seven people. The recipients are Race (Nigel Patrick), Mycroft (Roger Livesey), Lexy (Richard Attenborough), Porthill (Bryan Forbes) Stevens (Kieron Moore), Rupert (Terence Alexander) and Weaver (Norman Bird). Each of these men has things in common. They are all former army officers, they have somewhat of a checkered past, they are all in need of money, and they were all good at what they’re jobs were in the army. They were specialists in their fields. In the packages Hyde sends a book called “The Golden Fleece”, halves of ten five pound notes and an invitation to lunch at the Café Royal.
Everyone shows up. Hyde gives them the other half of the five pound notes and they have a nice lunch. Afterword he gets down to business. Asking their opinion of the book they have little to say. The book is a story about a bank robbery. Then he talks about each man’s individual sins. He then tells them that they are being recruited to copy the book and rob a bank. The payoff would be at least 100,000 pounds each. Interest improves tremendously.
The next time the gang meets they discuss the preliminary steps needed to prepare for the heist. They move into Hyde’s house and set up a house schedule, rules and any fines for breaking any of the rules. They then determine who will be responsible for each job during the heist and the tools needed to do those jobs. The first thing they need is armament.
The team raids an army training camp in Dorset. Stevens and Lexy pretend to be Irish workers from the phone company. They open a back gate for Rupert while Weaver keeps watch. Through the front gate come Hyde, Race, Porthill and Mycroft pretending to be soldiers on inspection. While they are keeping Captain Saunders (Gerald Harper) and his men busy the others are stealing munitions out the back gate. The heist is blamed on the Irish.
Now that they know they can work together effectively and efficiently the group is on to the next phase of the plan. The remaining equipment is gathered or stolen and a detailed plan is drawn up. Each step is discussed, timed, assigned and gone over using models. Everyone has all the equipment they need to perform their job and everything has been laid out precisely. There’s nothing left to do except go.
“The League of Gentlemen” was released in 1960 and was directed by Basil Dearden. It is a British comedy crime drama and is based on the 1958 novel by John Boland. The film was produced by Allied Film Makers which was a production company created by director Basil Dearden and actors Jack Hawkins, Bryan Forbes and Richard Attenborough. They only produced six films, all between 1960 and 1964. The book and film were the inspiration for Alan Moore’s comics and movie “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” as well as the comic troupe “The League of Gentlemen”.
As with any big heist movie, it takes about an hour to really get into any action. The first part is always the setup with the many characters being introduced and the montage of the preparation involved in executing the heist. During that part of the movie you get to know the characters, their strengths and weaknesses and there’s usually a little bonding along the way for at least some of the characters. The characters usually represent misfits of one kind or another. This is all needed and by the time the actual heist happens you feel some affinity at least some of the characters.
The film boasts some good characters and with an array of seasoned actors there’s a lot to like. It’s an enjoyable little film once it gets going. It’s well written with good pacing and subtle yet amusing humor.
Jack Hawkins, who plays Lieutenant Colonel Norman Hyde, was ill with cancer during filming. Hyde was a three pack a day smoker and underwent Cobalt treatments in 1959. Official diagnosis of his cancer was in 1965. His larynx was removed in 1966. He continued to work but all his dialogue was dubbed, usually by either Robert Rietti or Charles Gray. Despite losing his larynx Hyde continued to smoke, although not with the same intensity. He died in 1973 from a second hemorrhage, the result of an experimental surgery done to insert an artificial voice box in his throat.
The Army raid was inspired partly by a real I.R.A. raid. I.R.A. members impersonated officers and stole weapons from a barracks. The portrait of Hyde’s wife in his house is that of Deborah Kerr.