This might be a difficult film to review as the first thing which is required is explaining which one it isn’t. You see, this isn’t a brilliantly dark comic TV series. It also isn’t a graphic novel series (which is long-overdue for a new instalment), nor is it the stylish – but ultimately fatally flawed–film adaptation of it. This, you see, pre-dates all of those and has very little to do with anything else.
Now that we’re all ‘up to speed’, so to speak, let’s dive in.
Following the end of the Second World War, Britain was nearly out of resources of any sort: money, metals, foodstuffs, and young men were all in very short supply. They were also quite low on spiritual resources, and morale of the individual was nigh-on at gutter level. Those in the army wisely stayed there where they might have room and board and solid chances of advancement within the structure. With occasional flare-ups in locations such as Korea as well as Cyprus (then a colony, now its own independent Republic), the British Armed Forces were occupied with occupying and bringing rule and order to spots around the world.
Then the end of the 1950s arrived, and there was a gradual down-sizing and enforced retirements were doled-out where men were ‘de-mobilized’ in largish numbers to make way for the new recruits too young to have served in the previous conflict. It is one of these ‘de-mobbed’ individuals who drives this story of a mission to “get one over on The Man”, yet harm no-one in the process. This plans is one in which he leads a team of men to rob a City of London bank of a million Pounds in used notes destined for destruction which is regularly delivered to it; as the notes are at the end of their life, no one is having them ‘stolen’, nor are they even insured which the theft might cause an increased premium or financial loss for anyone.
Thus, Lieutenant-Colonel, Rt’d Norman Hyde (played by Jack Hawkins) assembles a team of eight men whose names he has discovered in the Army’s files as having been decommissioned for a variety of less than salubrious activities, but none of them out-and-out villains. These, he explains to them, are reasons enough for each of them to wish for money to live their lives in a situation more in keeping with what they deserve, for their situation at present are in varying degrees of desperation. He offers them each an equal share of the loot, with himself taking a double share due to he being the one to entirely plan the operation and assemble the crew.
And plan it he certainly has. Every single detail is carefully thought out and checked for the slightest flaw or possibility of discovery. Schedules of delivery of the bank notes, the specifics of who takes collection, the possessor of the bank’s key, the number of men required to subdue the employees of the van and the bank, the number of minutes available before the authorities arrive if the alarm is not disabled successfully; everything is carefully plotted and noted.
The team all move into Hyde’s country-like-home, in order to both work together and create a team spirit, as well as to keep away from the potential eyes of the authorities. They plan everything as though they were working together as a covert operation, with daily briefings using film, photographic slides, maps, flip-charts with wooden pointers, scale models, and verbal dry runs of each step around a table. They acquire a large van and repaint it as well as give it new number plates, visit a local army base and avail themselves of smoke grenades, gas masks, and armaments such as rifles and hand-guns. Their common goal of £10,000 each is what keeps them together. See the film for the details of that, as well as what is the end result.
Each of the characters is fully realised and the desperation of their situations is indicative of the morés of the times as well as the economic trials of the period. One man is being extorted for being a homosexual (which was illegal at the time), another was running a black market trade in the army and is now operating a gambling syndicate, another is a ‘kept man’ by a rich wife who has affairs about which he can say nothing (divorces at the time being both difficult and seen as akin to an admittance of being a ‘bad person’), and another of them while head of a bomb-disposal squad was drunk at the time he gave an order which ultimately led to the death of four of his men. All of these men is looked at with shame and dismissal by Society, and their prospects of making good on any of those points against them are unlikely at best. They are, essentially, losers before they even begin the next race, should they even have the spirit to attempt it.
All of the details of the plot, as well as the carrying out of the action is sufficient to maintain our fascination, yet not so much that one cannot either keep track of it or make it seem to be something placed there merely for the sake of it. It is all quite believable and realistic, as well as being interesting and enjoyable. Who doesn’t have some sort of “could get away with…” ponderings at some point, even if it is simply to think about it? The opportunity to vicariously live this out through a film’s characters is easy to locate, as there are any number of titles which permit it.
If you’ve not seen this, you ought to, as it’s another example of how to make a damned good story as a damned good film. Too few of these ‘low-budget’ UK productions are widely known, and this one very much deserves some wider exposure.
The League of Gentlemen (1960)
presented by Allied Film Makers
Rank Film Distributors
John Boland (novel)
Bryan Forbes (screenplay)
This year, I’ve been watching DVDs from the library for a number of reasons, mostly to do with a combination of “filling in the gaps in my ‘pop culture’ knowledge”, as well as a concerted effort to better understand story editing by both watching a film and then re-watching listening to people who have studied that particular movie for years in order to better appreciate the themes, plot construction, symbolism, and so on.
The process would be nothing without the secondary audio tracks. Sometimes it’s like having actually been through the film-making process with the people involved.