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United Kingdom 1960
Directed by
Basil Dearden
116 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

League Of Gentlemen, The

Coming at the end of a long string of classic British post-war film comedy, The League of Gentlemen is rather much of a fizzer, relying over much on a typology of familiar characters as played by regulars of the period, Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes (who also wrote the screenplay) and a generalized spirit of well-mannered subversion to get it over the line. 

This it did in its day and the film was a huge critical and commercial success but the post-war ethos that sustains it – a mixture of old boy public school civility and working class opportunism, respectful deference and cock-a-snoot defiance, has long since passed. As a comedy, it's barely droll, as a heist film there's nothing at stake as it tells the story of a disgruntled British Army veteran, Lt. Col. Hyde (Jack Hawkins), who recruits a group of disgraced former military men in order to rob a bank.

Lacking the broad farce of a film such as Mario Zampi’s Too Many Crooks indeed having a somewhat sour tone, the film is very much for committed Anglophones. There is, however one priceless exchange between Nigel Patrick’s Major Race and Jack Hawkins’ Hyde. As the latter ascends the stairs of his home, indicating an oil portrait, Race asks “Is that your wife?”  When Hyde answers “Yes”, Race asks “Is she dead?”  “No, no” replies Hyde “I regret to say the bitch is still going strong”. If only the rest of the film could have been that sharp.

FYI: A very young Oliver Reed appears as a homosexual theatre student




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