Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Too Many Crooks (1959)

I’m still  in the grip of my Terry-Thomas obsession. This time up it’s Too Many Crooks, released in 1959. Could this one possibly be as good as Make Mine Mink and The Naked Truth? The answer is a resounding yes.

This one has an extraordinarily good cast. Not just Terry-Thomas, but Sid James, George Cole and Bernard Bresslaw, all reliable British comedy stalwarts of the era. And in supporting roles actors of the calibre of John le Mesurier, Sidney Tafler and Terry Scott.

Fingers (George Cole) is the leader of a spectacularly unsuccessful criminal gang. The other gang members are Sid (Sid James), the huge and very simple-minded Snowdrop (Bernard Bresslaw), the nervy Whisper (Joe Melia) and glamorous sexpot Charmaine (Vera Day). They are starting to suspect that their lack of success has a lot to do with Fingers. He just doesn’t seem to be very good either at planning or executing crimes.

For his part Fingers is coming up with ever more ambitious schemes. He has decided that the gang should concentrate on wealthy financier Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Gordon is not only rich, he’s very crooked. He’s a man who is definitely not in a position to call in the police. It should be possible to relieve Gordon of a significant part of his fortune. Like most of Fingers’ plans it’s not entirely a bad idea if only he can make it work this time, but of course we know that isn’t going to happen.

Their attempt to rob Gordon’s house ends in yet another failure but now Fingers has come up with his masterstroke. They will kidnap Billy Gordon’s daughter and hold her for ransom. The only thing in the world that Billy Gordon loves more than money is his daughter.

The kidnapping is a terrific comic set-piece involving a hearse and a coffin and of course Fingers has done it again. He’s snatched Gordon’s wife rather than his daughter. And while Gordon would have paid any amount of money for the return of his daughter, he’s not prepared to pay a penny to get his wife back. He’s delighted by the idea of being free to chase women without a wife cramping his style.

So now the gang find themselves in a tricky situation but things are about to take an unexpected twist and it looks like our luckless band of incompetent crooks are about to taste success at last.

There are no dull spots at all in this movie. It hits the ground running and the laughs keep on coming. Michael Pertwee’s script is clever and witty. Mario Zampi was one of the most consistently excellent directors of comedy in Britain at that time. When you add that superb cast it should all work wonderfully well, and it does.

Billy Gordon is basically a typical Terry-Thomas cad. He’s not only a crooked financier but also an inveterate womaniser. His faithful and long-suffering wife Lucy (Brenda de Banzie) has to scrimp and save while Billy lives the high life with his lady friends. Like most Terry-Thomas cads he’s so much fun that you almost hope that he’ll come out on top and he suffers so many misfortunes that he does become vaguely sympathetic.

Fingers is rather sympathetic as well. He tries really hard but he’s just not very good at crime. He also tries very hard to be a tough guy, with equally little success. In fact this is a very good-natured gang. They don’t want to hurt anybody, they just want to make a dishonest living.

Vera Day adds a definite touch of glamour as the sexy Charmaine. She’s possibly the most competent member of the gang since at least she knows how to use her feminine wiles effectively. And she’s amusing as well as glamorous.

This film has had various DVD releases, both individually and as part of a number of boxed sets, in most regions. The Region 2 DVDs are still very easy to get hold of (and absurdly cheap) but finding this movie in Region 1 might be more of a challenge.

Too Many Crooks is simply terrific entertainment. Highly recommended.


  1. Glad you liked this one as well. But I can't believe you didn't mention the court scene - an absolute classic, even if it had been in a much worse film. Some of the word play is brilliant.

    I think this may be the quintessential Terry Thomas film - he's an awful cad, but you can't help admiring him!

  2. Ditto everything Tom says. :)

    Terry Thomas does play a sympathetic "good guy" character for a change in "Make Mine Mink".

    I agree entirely with what you say about Mario Zampi.