The League of Gentlemen (1960)
Written by Bryan Forbes, from the novel from John Boland
Directed by Basil Dearden
Why I remembered this film is because of a brief appearance of Oliver Reed as a young actor, camping it up as a young actor. The most ostentatious manner of putting his hand on his hip – if it were in 3D, you’d have to duck for fear of it taking your eye out. Speaks in a light tone, given Reed’s naturally butch voice, lips in a pout, casting his eyes all over the place. Rather a fluffy jumper he’s wearing too. It’s certainly memorable – even if it’s only because of the embarrassment you feel for yourself and also for Reed.
However I’d overlooked other gay content in the film. It’s a crime caper with many sharp comic touches, in which a bunch of ex-soldiers are brought together to execute a bank heist. However, the film is critical of contemporary society, and also of any of the glamour which has attached to military figures after all those WWII films. Each of the plotters is in one way or another a compromised or corrupt character. Homosexuality features in several of the character’s backgrounds.
The most obvious instance is Captain Stevens, played by Kieron Moore. We first see him in a scene where he is being blackmailed. It’s not blatantly explicit, but in the scene it’s gradually made obvious, from enough heavy handed signifiers for viewers to get the gist that Stevens is being blackmailed for his homosexuality (The interest in physical culture; the blackmailer’s comment, “Girls are expensive enough, but, well, it takes all sorts to make a world”; the young boxer’s confusion as to what the two blokes are doing in the novel Stevens gave him; and Stevens saying, “There are thrills and thrills” as the camera lingers on him massaging the young boxer’s body.) Of course, this is when homosexuality was still illegal. Stevens is a perfectly normal macho figure. You’re not made to despise him, it’s just an accepted fact of adult life. This is also a year before Dirk Bogarde in “Victim” (1961), which was also directed by Basil Dearden.
Eventually, all the characters are called together so that the leader can explain his scheme. To prevent any of them from backing out or making pretences to moral superiority, Jack Hawkins humiliates each of them by recounting their misdemeanours.
Stevens was a “One time fascist backroom boy. Mosley speaks and all that. Saw the light just in time and was made an officer and a gentleman. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite behave like one. The Sunday newspapers had a field day. There’s nothing the British public likes better than catching the ODD men out”. (There is a tradition of homosexual attraction to fascism, but that’s another matter – and a small body of exciting letters in “Gay News” about which BNP leader and his boyfriend had been seen in which pubs when, hmmmm)
Captain "Padre" Mycroft (Roger Livesey) was “Cashiered for gross indecency in a public place” (which smacks of Terrence Rattigan theatrical territory).
It’s not condemnatory, it’s just a way of indicating adult weaknesses, as the other characters also highlight contemporary Britain’s hypocrisies and failure to live up the bright future promised post-WWII.