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

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

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…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

Doctor, eh? You’re not in the best of shape yourself, though, are you?

Doctor Who  Season 26 – Worst to Best
I’m not a big Seventh Doctor fan. For me, Doctor Who pretty much ended with Season 23 (and not because it was awful: see here). Yes, there have been a few nu-Who reprieves (mostly notably Matt Smith’s first season), but the McCoy era flaunted an abundance of sins, from a lead who wasn’t up to snuff, to a script-editor messaging his social conscience wrapped in a breeze block (or bilge bag), to production values that made any given earlier era look absurdly lavish in comparison. And then there was the “masterplan” (which at least lends Season 24 a rather innocuous and relatively inoffensive quality by contrast).

Nevertheless, on the occasions I do return to the era, I’m always minded to give it a fair shake. And while that resolve inevitably crumbles within minutes, under the duress of cold harsh reality, it has, at times, led to a positive reappraisal (The Happiness Patrol, and, to an extent, perhaps unfathomably, Time and the Rani). So we’ll see ho…