Major Race, looking at a portrait on the wall: Is that your wife?
Lt.Col. Hyde: Yes.
Major Race: Is she dead?
Lt.Col.Hyde: No, no. I regret to say the bitch is still going strong.
Somebody get Guy Ritchie on the phone. While I’m much averse to remakes/reboots etc, this is a film just begging for a modern-day remake with an A-list of Brit actors and Guy Ritchie’s crime-comedy skillset at the helm. I can hear the ‘ker-ching’ of the box-office cash registers. Just take my money, dammit. What? It won’t sell overseas? Whats Chinese for… oh, never mind.
Even for a film made in the late 1950s, this film has something of a modern-day wit and sensibility. The brilliant cast chews up the dialogue with gusto, and indeed, what a cast: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesay, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes and even Oliver Reed in perhaps one of the most ill-judged cameos ever, a briefest of moments that likely haunted him for years, it’s so awkward and camp. A reminder that even the biggest of movie stars need to put food on the table before stardom calls.
The story is a boys-own adventure by way of a sojourn in the world of noir: Colonel Hyde (Jack Hawkins), having suffered enforced redundancy from his beloved army, recruits seven other dissatisfied ex-servicemen for a bank robbery. Each of his carefully-chosen recruits are experts in their particular field, forced out of the service and each with shady backgrounds and need for money. Hyde reasons that only a crack team with military discipline and training can pull off the daring heist that he has in mind. Naturally there are twists and turns and tense moments, and the film dates from a period when crime really wasn’t seen to pay, so you can guess how things end up, but its a cracking yarn well-told, and quite daring, I think, for its time in how it tackles topics like bad marriages, promiscuous wives and hidden homosexuality.
A surprising treat and a cracking entirely British film the likes of which we don’t see anymore. Not unless Guy Ritchie picks up the phone, that is…
*The League of Gentlemen is currently doing the rounds on the Talking Pictures channel available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin media etc. and is well worth looking out for.