Skip to main content

The food will be good. And the prospects... unlimited.


The League of Gentlemen
(1960)

Mercifully, this is far from Extraordinary. Jack Hawkins (Colonel Hyde) assembles a gang of ex-army criminals to rob a bank (which, when it eventually occurs, is impressively-staged and convincingly speedy), taking in an army supplies base along the way.  The real pleasure is in the character interactions and casting, so the early stages are probably the most enjoyable part of the film (Hawkins putting each member in their place as they enjoy a hearty meal at his expense is a highlight).

Besides Hawkins, the standout turn comes from Nigel Patrick as the louche Major Race (continually referring to Hawkins as "Old darling"). The team also comprises Sir Dickie Attenborough (amusingly cast as a wide-boy lieutenant, following on from Private's Progress no doubt), Terence Alexander and Bryan Forbes (who wrote the screenplay and whose missus Nanette Newman, unsurprisingly, pops up in the bath). Hawkins apparently underwent cancer treatment during filming, and his voice certainly doesn't sound its best at points.

The aspect of the film I found most surprisingly is its frankness over sexual matters; Newman's character is upfront over her infidelities and disinterest in her husband ("You've had your porridge this week"), and on catching her with another man Alexander turns and leaves after paying him some money for his trouble. Captain Stevens (Kieron Moore) works as a masseur and a blackmailer references all the young men coming to his flat (It takes "all sorts to make a world"). When Hyde is going through the roll call of the men's indiscretions he notes that Stevens was a follower of Moseley and then was forced out of the army for "catching the odd men out" (appearing to draw an association between repressed homosexuality and fascism). When Attenborough's Lexy is put in the same room as Stevens, the latter comments "Like being back at school", to which Lexy replies, "I sincerely hope not".

Roger Livesey's "Padre" Captain Mycroft was prosecuted for "gross indecency in a public place" (when asked if he has ever attended Billy Graham ministries, he replies "I always went forward"). Race continually makes suggestive remarks ("You'd be surprised where my caravan has rested", "One gets into terrible habits at the YMCA") while Hyde himself has not seen his wife in years, and refers to her as a bitch when glancing at her portrait (in the novel Hyde is explicitly referred to as gay). The portrait is of Deborah Kerr from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (another Powell link). And then there's an Oliver Reed cameo, mincing his heart out as a performer in Babes in the Wood who gets the wrong room.

Director Basil Dearden made Victim the following year, the premise of which picks up on the plight of Stevens; a gay man being blackmailed over his sexuality. The director had started out on Will Hay features (including The Black Sheep of Whitehall and The Goose Steps Out), Dixon of Dock Green inspiration The Blue Lamp and, just prior to this, race relations picture Sapphire. He would continue to do interesting work over the next decade, until his premature death in a car accident in 1971 aged 60.

If the crime doesn't pay ending is a predictable consequence of the era in which it was made, the ease with which this transpires is a disappointment. I suppose you could suggest that, because the operation is timed with such military precession, it's appropriate that it should go awry due such a minor detail. But I hoped for something a little more worthy and intricate to mirror all the effort put in.

Still, it's interesting that issues of class and rank are firmly supplanted by solidarity in the final shot. Hyde exerts a level of discipline among the ranks that suggests he cannot help playing at soldiers (it's the only life he knows) but he is adamant that everyone gets an equal share, as it's the only way to ensure loyalty. His greatest concern is betrayal so it's also his greatest relief (beyond even getting clean away) when this doesn't transpire. Even the mock company bears the signs of a socialist ethic ("Co-operative Removals Limited").

Besides Livesey, another Michael Powell veteran appears in at the film's climax. Robert Coote nearly steals the show as a silly old duffer and ex-army man who shows up at Hyde's door at an inopportune moment. He proceeds to get progressively more plastered and raucous for the next five minutes.

Cary Grant was offered the lead, and it was apparently written with him in mind, but it’s hard to imagine it not transforming into a much less intriguing movie if he had starred. As it is, it really feels that it is poised on the cusp between the ‘50s and the ‘60s. With Grant’s involvement it would surely have been firmly positioned in an era that was gone.

****

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.