Basil Dearden (director)
13 January 2022 (released)
12 January 2020
Based on one time popular British novelist (but now no longer in print) John Boland's novel, this very tasteful British crime caper still holds up remarkably well after all these years, particularly with this new Blu-ray release!
Boland's plot is indeed quite ingenious and also somewhat far-fetched: a mega bank robbery maneuvered in a military style by a gang of ex-Army men (one a former Colonel and the other a Major). The very idea of such folk (usually only working class people rob banks or trains, don't they?) committing such an audacious crime is simply quite unthinkable. However, we are talking crime fiction though and not fact. Nevertheless we are treated to some seriously pacey entertainment, which never lags. Bryan Forbes (if ever there was an East End boy made good we need look no further) supplies a tight script; this was a year before his directorial debut. One is informed that Boland's ending differed from Forbes's - all that can be said here is that in 1960 crime could never really be seen to pay (screen-wise at least).
Colonel Hyde (the always dependable and staunch as ever Jack Hawkins) is seen at the beginning of the film emerging from a manhole cover at night in a London high street, immaculately dressed in a dinner suit. Initially quite why remains a bit of a mystery though, obviously he's up to no good. Returning home to his large detached country house (clearly he can't be that broke) he is seen sending half a 5-pound note (this was 1960) with a book titled 'The Golden Fleece' (curiously a few years later Boland wrote a novel with this title) with an accompanying typewritten and unsigned note to seven men. All are ex-Army men who, like himself, served during WW2 and all of them have good reason to be disenchanted. Life for all of them has not gone the way they would have liked to have it gone. This also goes for Hyde who feels cheated after twenty-five years good service to his country and little thanks in return. Hyde invites them to meet him for lunch at The Cafe Royal where they will get the other half of their 5-pound notes. Hyde asks them about their opinion of the book in question, which is ostensibly about an unlikely bank robbery. Unfortunately none of them seem initially impressed - far from it. However, all seven men eventually find Colonel Hyde's idea irresistible after his erudite and plausible explanation. His plan involves relieving a city bank of around one million pounds (nothing nowadays but back then you could buy a luxury flat in Belgravia for less than 20k) and the plan seems foolproof. Hyde has done his homework very thoroughly and has the lowdown on all seven men. Each of them will bring his considerable skills to task to ensure that nothing can possibly go wrong...
Major Peter Race (Nigel Patrick) for example is an ex-Major who could fool anyone as to his upper class sincerity (his insouciant attitude hitherto has been his downfall). He is the first and probably the brightest recruit to seek out the 'good' Colonel for a more in depth idea of the coup in hand and an unlikely friendship ensues. Captain Mycroft (Roger Livesey) not only is a conman these days but a bogus vicar drummed out for sexual indiscretions… there’s a surprise! But like Race he can pull off a good con. Lieutenant Edward Lexy (Richard Attenborough) is a disgruntled electrician tired of doing other people's dirty work and he can fix up practically any device. The other four include Captain Martin Porthill (scriptwriter Bryan Forbes, a piano player in a jazz club who lives off older women), Captain Stevens (Kieran Moore), Major Rutland-Smith (Terence Alexander) and last but not least Captain Frank Weaver (Norman Bird) who all have useful attributes. The 'gang' rehearse under disguise at an amateur dramatic society (watch out for a hilariously camp cameo by Oliver Reed!) before they hole up at Hyde's country retreat which is run like a military academy. Discipline is ALWAYS the key to success! Before embarking on the bank job they need to infiltrate an army training camp in Dorset in order to get the necessary supplies, which of course is where the men’s special skills are utilized only too well. Of course, what could have been attempted and achieved in 1960 would be quite impossible now, what with CCTV and computer data. After an initial successful robbery two utterly unexpected hurdles in the shape of bumbling ex-Brigadier Bunny Warren and a little boy prove to be our anti-heroes downfall.
Veteran director Basil Dearden (they don’t come much more British than him!) does a sterling job as could be expected and Philip Green's somewhat jingoistic score hits just the right note. As for the performances: obviously sterling as well! A golden oldie this, and the Blu-ray release offers some Extras (sadly no complimentary banknotes).