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.

****

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

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.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism