A Very British Bank Job

Jack Hawkins in The League of Gentlemen (1960)

In the same year which saw Frank Sinatra lead the rat pack in a military operation to rob casinos in "Ocean's Eleven" we also had Jack Hawkins leading a group of former soldiers in a military operation to rob a bank in "The League of Gentlemen". It's a typically British affair, a heist movie full of British wit and many recognizable faces from Jack Hawkins through to Richard Attenborough. And whilst "The League of Gentlemen" is now over 50 years old it is still as entertaining as ever especially for those who like heist movies especially British ones from a bygone era.

After being retired by the military Colonel Hyde (Jack Hawkins - Ben-Hur) puts together a group of former service men with a mission in mind. The highly trained men all have chequered pasts and all could do with an injection of cash so are perfect for Hyde's plan to use military precision to rob a bank. Now with the group on board it is just a case of solid preparation and planning before they pull off the bank job, well that and stealing some guns from a military training camp.

Bryan Forbes and Richard Attenborough in The League of Gentlemen (1960)

In stereotypical fashion "The League of Gentlemen" follows the path which most heist movies follow; the putting the team together stage, the preparation and planning and then the actual heist itself. It's not a criticism as it is the formula which the best heist movies follow and why mess with a formula which works. But there is one criticism and that is in the opening stage, the putting the team together section, because it is a drawn out series of scenes which whilst you can guess what is going on takes an absolute age to make its point. It's not that this opening is dull; in fact it is amusing as Hyde contacts those he has picked to be part of the gang using a note, a cut in half bank note and a copy of "The Golden Fleece". But as we basically meet each of the men it feels too drawn out and not snappy enough.

After the opening there is nothing to criticise with the rest of "The League of Gentlemen" especially when we have the preparation side of things with the men pulling of an amusing robbery at an army training base to get weapons. It's comically intelligent as we have misdirection, theft and a near miss with an over helpful AA man who almost blows their plans. And it is not just this amusing robbery as watching the men go through their paces, steal a removal vehicle and of course going through each stage of the robbery plan is all good fun as well as strangely plausible.

Of course all of this builds to the actual robbery and the outcome of the robbery, do they get away with it or does some comical mishap scupper their plans or is military precision enough. Let's just say having given us a mix of comedy and heist "The League of Gentlemen" continues with the same blend right up until the end delivering an amusingly daft ending in keeping with everything else which went on before.

A big reason why "The League of Gentlemen" is so entertaining is because of the casting and with numerous British stars in the movie there is an abundance of quality. Jack Hawkins is solid as Hyde whilst Nigel Patrick is a bit of a dodgy charmer as Race and then there is Roger Livesy as Mycroft the fake preacher with previous for exposing himself. In many ways it's the characters and their dodgy pasts which makes them entertaining, none more so that Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes who work well together throughout to make you smile without ever really doing anything funny.

What this all boils down to is that "The League of Gentlemen" is a brilliant British Heist movie which follows the plan laid out by other heist movies but with the benefit of British humour and plenty of British stars. And whilst it does follow the same formula set by other heist movies it is unpredictable and imaginative in its execution.

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