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Crooks in Cloisters (1963, Bernard Cribbins, Joseph O’Conor)



Jeremy Summers’ engaging comedy Crooks In Cloisters, starring Ronald Fraser as the leader of a band of thieves who hide out, posing as monks, in a deserted monastery was described by Films and Filming as ‘reminiscent of Ealing at its best’.

With Police Superintendent Alistair Williamson out to apprehend them, Fraser decides it is time to make a strategic retreat. He leads his gang – Bernard Cribbins, Melvyn Hayes, Gregoire Aslan and Davy Kaye – and his girlfriend Barbara Windsor to a deserted monastery off the coast of Cornwall where they can pose as monks so as to deflect snoopers from the mainland and wait for the heat to die down.

The gang continue with their usual larcenous activities through contacts in London who send loot to the monastery via criminal boatman Wilfrid Brambell. And, after initially showing considerable lack of enthusiasm for their new rigorous lifestyle of roughing it and doing farmyard chores, the crooks start to change. Windsor becomes a culinary artist after her disastrous first attempts at cooking; Hayes comes to love his pigs; Aslan idolises his onions and the others come to enjoy their chores. But after Hayes survives a virulent bout of pneumonia, it becomes clear to Fraser that they will have to leave their retreat. Hayes, who has fallen in love with Brambell’s daughter Francesca Annis, opts to remain and abandon a life of crime; but, as the others reach the mainland, Williamson is waiting for them.

Summers’ assured direction extracts the maximum gentle, character-driven comedy from the entertaining situations and, wrote Films and Filming , he ‘directs with a lively pace and proves a talent hinted at in The Punch and Judy Man’. Variety agreed, noting ‘Summers extracts plenty of laughter from his directing’ and from his players as well. ‘The casting could hardly have been bettered’, stated Monthly Film Bulletin while, catalogued Variety , ‘Fraser cuts a smugly amusing figure as the boss turned ‘Father Superior’.’

production details
UK / 97 minutes / 1964

Director: Jeremy Summers
Writers: TJ Morrison, Mike Watts, from an original story by Watts,

Bernard Cribbins as Squirts McGinty
Joseph O’Conor as Father Septimus
Barbara Windsor as “Brother” Bikini
Ronald Fraser as Walter Dodd
Melvyn Hayes as Willy
Francesca Annis as June
Davy Kaye as Specs
Wilfrid Brambell as Phineas
Grégoire Aslan as Lorenzo
Alister Williamson as Superintendent Mungo
Norman Chappell as Benson
Corin Redgrave as Brother Lucius
Arnold Ridley as Arnold Ridley
Patricia Laffan as Lady Florence
Russell Waters as Ship’s Chandler