Crooks in Cloisters
- Ronald Fraser as Little Walt
- Barbara Windsor as Bikini
- Bernard Cribbins as Squirts
- Gregoire Aslan as Lorenzo
- Davy Kaye as Specs
- Melvyn Hayes as Willy
- Wilfred Brambell as Phineas
- Francesca Annis as June
An amiable and easy comedy about a band of crooks living in hiding by pretending to be monks, Crooks in Cloisters has a certain sunny feeling that’s difficulty to resist. Yes it may not be a vintage comedy and some of its dated, but the fact that it’s got something of an irony to it keeps you watching.
Amiable Little Walt, along with his crooked crew, consisting of his lady Bikini, flashy Squirts, Spanish and talkative Lorenzo , nervous Specs and poetry loving Willy, pull off a small train robbery in London. Yet rather than basking in the glory of their earnings, they have to keep a low profile. Fleeing London because of the increasing search for them being headed by a determined detective, Walt tells them all that he has somewhere ideal for them all to stay. It’s an island on the Cornish Coast. What he hasn’t explained is that they will be hiding out in a monastery and disguised as monks! This is to everyone else’s dismay as they expected something else entirely. As they all get to grips with difficult life as pretend members of clergy, Walt continues to have a sideline in crime to make some living, but largely goes at it straight. They are helped by former sea dog and fisherman Phineas, who can be a crafty so and so at the best of times. Much hilarity ensues as they all try to make a go at things in the most unlikely of circumstances. The funny thing is the whole gang, initially after failed attempts, grow to like the monastic lifestyle and while crooks, they begin to rethink their ways and consider going straight for the very first time.
Jeremy Summers directs this easy film with no frills or pretence, just the desire to have a good time. Plus, the Cornish coast does look very idyllic in the grand scheme of things. The first half of Crooks in Cloisters is filled with amusing antics as the group struggles with living like genuine monks, as old habits die hard for them all. The attempts by Bikini to serve up edible food provide great laughs, while the forever gambling minded Squirts can’t resist placing a few bets on his winning greyhound. The script, which contains lashings of Cockney slang and references, also gets the film at a sprightly pace. Crooks in Cloisters goes a little overboard on occasion and while the Cockney humour is amusing to me, many who are unfamiliar with it may have difficulty seeing it as funny. But the good nature of proceedings is pretty winning and hard not to smile at watching a most unlikely group find unexpected joy in a lifestyle so different from their own. It’s not high art, but neither is it trying to be. The film is the equivalent to a movie you put on during a Sunday afternoon when there’s nothing else that takes your fancy. It’s harmless and simplistic, yet has a certain amusing and cosy charm going through its veins. Crooks in Cloisters is more a film to chuckle at than really laugh out loud at, not that that’s a bad thing mind you. It’s a familiar set up of. What largely benefits the film is a sprinkling of depth in the latter stages, added with a sort of bittersweet irony that befalls the gang. A comical score is employed and while a tad over the top, often suits the events on screen.
While the characters are largely archetypes, the actors clearly have fun with them. Ronald Fraser is very fun as the leader of the motley crew who likes to think he has a plan up his sleeve, but regularly falls short on delivering that. There’s a good heart in there, beneath all the bravado and schemes that Fraser plays to a fine degree. Barbara Windsor, possessor of helium voice and bouncing, bubbly attitude, has some hilarious moments as the moll of the bunch, specifically when she becomes interested in the culinary arts and takes issue with the reaction to her meals. The delightful Bernard Cribbins is a hoot as the most conspicuous member of the group, whose mind is usually on placing bets or some other wanted luxury that leads to trouble. Gregoire Aslan is the wittiest of the bunch, while Davy Kaye is the always timorous and most unable to hold his own water. The youthful looking Melvyn Hayes is a standout here. Playing the most eloquent and sensitive member of the motley crew, he has a real desire and passion to embrace the lifestyle with an almost childlike glee. You can’t help but smile when this guy comes on screen. Wilfred Brambell as the sneaky former seaman and Francesca Annis as his gorgeous granddaughter also make a mark in this comic movie.
So while it’s no comedy classic by any means, the gentleness, laughs and later a slightly bittersweet tone makes Crooks in Cloisters a smashing way to spend and hour and a half.