MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN
THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE
Volume 27, No.316, May 1960, page 65
LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, THE (1960)
Embittered by his enforced retirement after 25 years Army service, ex-Lieut. Col. Hyde conceives a daring plan to rob a bank of one million pounds. After consulting Army records, he contacts seven more ex-officers - Race, Mycroft, Lexy, Porthill, Stevens, Rupert and Weaver - whose post-war careers have become as shady as their service records. But Hyde knows that they are all experts in their various crafts and, after agreeing to plan the raid as if it were a military operation, they repair to Hyde's house for intensive preparation and rehearsals. Phase one consists of raiding an army supply depot for arms and ammunition; Phase Two includes the making of smoke bombs and the renovation of several vehicles. At last, all is ready and the League of Gentlemen assault the unsuspecting bank and make off with their booty. Returning to Hyde's home, their triumphant celebrations arc interrupted by an old Army colleague of Hyde's and a 'phone call from a police inspector. A small, unforeseen factor has brought about their betrayal.
Given a slightly different approach, this film might have developed into an ironic study of the decline of the officer class in peacetime; a valid enough subject, especially when one considers the varying shifts in social status to be encountered in the post-war British scene. Instead, the film concentrates on suspense rather than character investigation. Each of the Gentlemen is introduced by a little establishing scene, after which the script fails to develop their idiosyncrasies and, in fact, weakens its own possibilities by making them all basically shady characters. Bryan Forbes (as in his script for The Angry Silence) brings a lively surface edge to the dialogue, but tends to overdo the slick, ripe repartee as well as imposing on his characters a variety of fashionable perversions. As a study of a certain strata of society, then, the film lacks a strong centre and a firm point of view - one is never quite sure how seriously the parody of the officer code is intended, especially in the ambiguous, obligatorily moral ending.
Judged as a thriller, it is more successful: the two big set-pieces (the army camp robbery and the raid itself) are quite skilfully put together, although the former suffers from an overdose of tired Army humour. The handling of these scenes and the extensive location shooting suggest that, for Basil Dearden, the film's interest (and challenge) was mainly a technical one. In any case, it is his sharpest, most alive film for several years with rather less of his customary, mechanical shock-cutting. The players, on the other hand, are often forced by the script's limitations to fall back on familiar mannerisms - Jack Hawkins is altogether too smooth and heavy and Nigel Patrick's oily bounder brings no revelation. Roger Livesey has some dry moments as a spurious officer doing the rounds whilst Robert Coote's drunken intervention enlivens the somewhat anti-climactic climax.
The Monthly Film Bulletin was published by the British Film Institute between 1934 and 1991. Initially aimed at distributors and exhibitors as well as filmgoers, it carried reviews and details of all UK film releases. In 1991, the Bulletin was absorbed by Sight and Sound magazine.