A man climbs casually out of a manhole in his finest attire, gets into a car and drives off. When he comes home, he sends out seven packages containing the book The Golden Fleece, half of £50 (literally half, in ripped up bills), and instructions to an assortment of characters. So begins The League of Gentlemen.
The ring leader, Norman Hyde (Hawkins), is ex-army and feels the world owes him something. The men he contacted are all former army officers as well, and they all have secrets or difficulties which make them fairly easy to persuade into joining Hyde for a bank robbery.
Utilising all their combined skills, the officers-cum-robbers plan an elaborate heist with a possible outcome of £100,000 per participant. It’s enough incentive to sway them all, and the plan is put into motion.
How did we love The League of Gentlemen? Let us count the ways. The dialogue, the dishwashing scene, the naughty vicar, the prep, the military infiltration, the heist itself, the heroic music, the gas masks, and the complete and utter cheek of the whole thing were all amazing, and had us laughing throughout.
Combine that with the very real and palpable tension during the heist and you got yourself a winner. The characters, and their interactions, are fantastic and you find yourself rooting for them very quickly. Love, love, love this movie. Definitely something to check out if you’re not familiar with it.
As Peter Carter (Niven) is plunging towards certain death in a shot up plane May 1945, his final moments are shared with radio operator June (Hunter) and the two, as people are wont to do in these intense situations, fall in love. He ejects from the burning aircraft without a parachute and is surprised to find himself alive on shore some moments later. Surely, the fall should have killed him?
Turns out, it should have. Up on the celestial plane, the clerics are confused about the lateness of his arrival until they find that his Conductor, a very camp Frenchman (Goring), lost the pilot in the fog and thus neglected to collect his soul.
Unfortunately for the clerics of the afterlife, in the few hours of “extra” life Peter got, he met and fell in love with June which greatly complicates things. As he is not at fault here, is it fair to take him away just as he has found the love of his life? Since it was their mix up that caused this to happen, the celestial beings grant Peter a trial with his life at stake.
Meanwhile, in our own world, June has enlisted the help of a doctor friend of hers, Dr Reeves (Livesey, of Colonel Blimp-fame), as her new love is suffering headaches and possible hallucinations after jumping from a plane without a parachute… Naturally, the medical professional diagnoses Peter with head trauma and recommends surgery, to coincide with the patient’s heavenly trial.
This was a beautiful and engaging film which we completely loved. The relationship between Peter and June is lovely, although a bit hasty. She’s either very wonderful or very naïve to stick by him when he starts talking crazy after they’ve known each other for all of a day. The trial becomes very political, and much of the criticism against England from the USA could have been modern criticism against the US, which is very interesting to observe (especially given the newly instated president..). It’s like both countries have a history of proclaiming themselves above others and trying to impose their rules on other nations…
The sets are beautiful and impressive, especially on the other plane.
In a way, this film is like an opposite Wizard of Oz, as our world is in glorious technicolor while the other world is in drab black and white. Then again, our world is supposed to be the desirable one so it makes sense. A Matter of Life and Death has humour, excitement, adventure, romance, political undertones, history lessons, camp Frenchmen and gorgeous shoes! What’s not to love?
During World War 2, Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy, commander in the Home Guard, is “captured” in a Turkish bath by overzealous soldiers who cannot wait for the actual exercise to begin. A scuffle ensues, Wynne-Candy is assaulted and insulted by the young leader, and we are then treated to a two-and-a-half hour long flashback of the aging soldier’s life.
It begins during the Boer War, when young Candy is on leave and hears of some anti-British propaganda being spread in Germany. After being told clearly by his superiors to leave it alone, he goes off to Berlin to see Edith Hunter (Kerr), the British governess who brought the offence to his attention. Because why listen to your superiors?
For offending the entire German army, Clive must fight a duel with Theo Kretschmar- Schuldorff (Walbrook) which leads to injuries for both fencers. They end up in the same hospital for convalescence, where they strike up a lifelong friendship together with Edith. As Clive recovers and prepares to return to England, he finds that his two friends have fallen in love and celebrates their engagement with them. It is only after he leaves he realises that he too is in love with the governess.
The two men go their separate ways, but keep in touch. World War 1 begins, and both soldiers are fighting, though obviously on different sides. On the last night of the war, Clive sees nurse Barbara Wynne (also Kerr) who is the spit of Edith (naturally) and once home, he tracks her down and marries her. Probably healthy.
After 1918, Theo is a prisoner of war in England for a year before he’s allowed to return home, defeated and defiant as many Germans at the time. However, his attitude changes during Hitler’s regime, and he eventually seeks refuge in England.
The second World War is a difficult time for the now aged Clive, and his attitudes to war and how it should be fought give him a dismissal from the military where he has lived his life. The friendships of Theo and Clive’s driver (and confidant) Johnny Cannon (Kerr again) help him find new new purpose and brings us right up to the start of the film.
This was a wonderful film and despite its long run time it flies by. All major actors give great performances, and the glorious technicolor really does justice to the soldiers’ uniforms as well as Deborah Kerr’s amazing hair. We loved the clips showing the passage of time between wars, and the handling of Barbara’s death through newspaper clippings was oddly emotionally effective. There are some very good comments on a then ongoing war which are still good observations 70 years on.
The friendship between Clive and Theo is beautiful and the characters are wonderful as well. They’re both flawed, yes, but they are likable and human, which made us very invested in the outcome. We loved it, and it’s well worth the three hour run time.
What we learned: Oh, so many things! Old people have lived long, full lives. Never go off at half cock. Avoid politicians like the plague. Political ideas are best discussed by drinking beer and fighting duels. You so rarely see a good fencing duel nowadays. Only part of the title is true.