The League of Gentlemen (1960) – A Movie Review

This is an English bank heist film.  And it’s a good one.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The movie opens up with a man emerging from a London manhole cover dressed in proper evening attire and driving away in a Rolls Royce.  That should set the tone for the movie.  This same man, retired Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde, is next seen cutting some five-pound banknotes in half and mailing the halves along with a paperback book about a bank heist called the “Golden Fleece” to seven different men.  Next, we meet each of these men as they receive their packages.  Each is a retired military officer.

Major Peter Race is now living as a down on his luck gambler.

Captain “Padre” Mycroft is a confidence man pretending to be a vicar.

Lieutenant Edward Lexy, played by a much younger Richard Attenborough, is an electronics technician who does side jobs “fixing slot machines for racketeers to shortchange the winners.

Captain Martin Porthill is a gigolo living off the largesse from middle-aged women

Captain Stevens is a homosexual masseuse.

Major Rupert Rutland-Smith is a piano player barely getting by.

Captain Frank Weaver is an unhappily married man.

Hyde is contacting each of them because they were dishonorably discharged from the military and therefore unable to make a good living in the civilian world.  He wants to offer them a share in a bank heist that he is planning.  Each of them has an expertise that will contribute to the success of his military style mission to rob a bank of a million pounds from which each will get an equal share.  One is an expert in explosives, another in communications, another a procurement expert who can forge car and truck license plates.  Two of them are combat veterans who are well trained in crowd control and unafraid to kill.  One is adept at hotwiring and stealing cars.  All have a desire to escape their present lives and live happily ever off of one enormous payday.

They all sign on with Major Race as Hyde’s second in command.  Their first objective is to steal enough weapons and explosives from a British military base to outfit the heist.  The men follow an ingenious plan of Hyde’s to decoy the personnel of the base with a phony inspection by top brass while the rest of the crew pillage the arsenal.

After this success the team moves forward on the plan.  They steal the vehicles they’ll need for the robbery.  They assemble the explosives and the jamming devices.  And they work out the schedule down to the minute.  And as soon as the armored car leaves the bank and turns the corner, the team springs the trap.  The utility shafts that house the alarm and phone lines are blown, the air outside the bank is filled with dense smoke and the team raids the bank brandishing machine guns.  They quickly wheel away the cart from the armored car delivery with the twenty boxes each containing fifty thousand pounds and escape with the money.

But completely coincidentally a little boy had copied down the license plate number of the getaway truck.  Later that day we see Hyde distributing the money to the team at his hideout.  The mood is celebratory.  One by one the team members take their cut of the loot and leave.  When only Hyde and Race are left, a call comes in on the telephone.  It’s Scotland Yard and they order them to come out and give themselves up.  Hyde demands to know which of the team turned them in.  Instead, they find out about the little boy and the license plates.

When they are escorted into the police-wagon we see the rest of the team already captured and manacled together.

I found this old bank heist movie a hidden gem.  I’d never heard of it and despite its “ancient” origin it was very well done, both in terms of the acting and the heist details.  The camaraderie of these total strangers is somewhat reminiscent of such military movies as “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Great Escape.”  But in this case the battle is a crime.  I highly recommend this movie to anyone who likes a good heist movie and to the general viewer of quality cinema.

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