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The League of Gentlemen (1960)

aka The League of Gentlemen

Directed By: 
Details: 116 mins · English

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Plot:

A manhole opens at night in an empty street and out climbs Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) in a dinner suit. He gets into a Rolls-Royce and drives home. There, he prepares seven envelopes, each containing an American crime paperback called The Golden Fleece, ten half-£5-notes (i.e. £50 in total with the other halves) and an unsigned invitation from “Co-operative Removals Limited” to lunch at the Café Royal.

He posts the envelopes to former army officers, each in desperate or humiliating circumstances. They all turn up. Hyde dismisses the waiters and introduces himself. As a sign of good faith he hands out the second halves of the £5 notes and asks their opinion of the novel, in which a robbery is committed by experts. They show little enthusiasm and he expresses surprise given their backgrounds and asks: “You’re all crooks, aren’t you? Of one kind or another”. Touring the table, pouring out brandy, he reveals why they were obliged to leave the British Army and their unenviable present occupations:

Major Peter Race (Nigel Patrick), a former transport officer who resigned before his black market ring was uncovered in post-World War II Hamburg. He earns a poor living in unlicensed gambling and lives at the YMCA. He prides himself on his breeding and addresses men as “old darling”;

Major Rupert Rutland-Smith (Terence Alexander) is the hen-pecked husband of a wealthy young woman who delights in pulling his strings because he depends upon her money. She has affairs to which he can only turn a blind eye;

Captain “Padre” Mycroft (Roger Livesey) was a quartermaster dismissed for public gross indecency. He is now a con-man impersonating vicars and priests; he also enjoys lewd books;

Captain Martin Porthill (Bryan Forbes) was dishonourably discharged for killing suspected members of EOKA and now works as a piano player and is a kept man to middle-aged women;

Captain Stevens (Kieron Moore), one-time fascist follower of Oswald Mosley, is a homosexual running a gymnasium. He needs money to pay a blackmailer (male homosexual acts being illegal at the time);

Captain Frank Weaver (Norman Bird), formerly of a bomb disposal squad, tried defusing a bomb while drunk, killing four of his soldiers. He has been a teetotaller ever since and owns a small shop fixing clocks and watches, living with his garrulous wife (Doris Hare) and aging father-in-law;

Lieutenant Edward Lexy (Richard Attenborough), a communications specialist dismissed for selling information to the Russians while in Berlin. He runs a struggling repair shop for radios and fruit machines, illegally reducing the payout on the latter on behalf of criminals.

Hyde tells them he has no criminal record himself but does have a grievance for being made redundant by the army after a long career. He intends to rob a bank using the team's skills, with equal shares of £100,000 or more for each man. He asks them to consider his proposal.

Major Race follows Hyde home. He is interested, but warns Hyde to keep an eye on the others. Hyde agrees, yet insists each man receive an equal share because, “the one, sure way to disaster is for someone to get greedy”. Race agrees, smiles, and says Hyde is “losing a friend, but gaining a second-in-command”, "I'll settle for that."

The gang meet under the guise of an amateur dramatic society rehearsing Journey’s End to discuss the plan before moving into Hyde’s house and living a military regime of duties and fines, £100 to £500, to be deducted from the haul. Hyde knows that a million pounds in used notes is regularly delivered to a City of London bank and has details of the delivery. What they need now is equipment to pull off the robbery.

They raid an army training camp in Dorset for arms and supplies. Hyde, Mycroft, Porthill and Race distract soldiers by posing as senior officers on an unscheduled food inspection. The others steal weapons while posing as telephone repairmen, speaking in Irish accents to divert suspicion to the IRA.

The gang rent a warehouse to prepare. Race steals vehicles including cars and a truck which are fitted with false number plates. They are disturbed by a passing policeman who ironically offers to keep an eye on their premises as he patrols. In Hyde’s basement, the gang train with maps and models. On the eve of the operation, Hyde destroys the plans and recalls his former military glory.

The robbery is bloodless and precise. Using smoke bombs, sub-machine guns, and radio jamming equipment, the gang raids the bank, near St Paul’s. The money is seized without serious injury and the robbers escape. At Hyde’s house, celebrations are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Hyde’s old friend, Brigadier “Bunny” Warren (Robert Coote), who drunkenly recalls the old days. One by one the members leave carrying suitcases filled with notes. Then the telephone rings; Hyde is told that police and soldiers surround the house.

Leading the police is Superintendent Wheatlock (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) from whom Hyde learns the flaw in his plan. A small boy outside the bank had been collecting car registration (licence plate) numbers, a common hobby at the time. The police, discovering the number, found it had been noted by the policeman who visited the warehouse. The policeman had also noted the number of Hyde's own car. Thus a link was established between the robbery and Hyde.

Hyde is escorted to a Black Maria in which the League of Gentlemen are “all present and correct”, each having been captured as they left the house.

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