The Ladykillers (1955)
Dir: Alexander Mackendrick
Star: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Katie Johnson
Cert / Year: U / 1955
Format: Video

A charming old lady Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce has rooms to rent in her rundown Victorian town house. She has no luck until the rather sinister Professor Marcus turns up and rents the rooms claiming that it is for him and his string quartet to practice there. In actual fact Marcus and the others are planning a heist from the station around the corner and they plan to use the lovely Mrs. Wilberforce as an unwitting accomplice. That is until she finds out more than she should and the robbers are be forced to become Ladykillers.

They don't make like they used to, although they may well remake them. However the film we are considering here is the original, a classic amongst the Ealing comedies. Yes it was made in 1955 and ok society is now very different yet thanks to the sharp script and tight direction the film has lost none of its appeal.

Back then British acting talent was in plentiful supply, and a quick glance at the cast list shows just how good things could be. Alec Guinness as the professor gives a brilliantly slimey performance that is all teeth and false platitudes. He gives a real air of criminal brilliance mixed with creepy untrustworthiness. The same level of quality can be applied to the rest of the gang with Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, and Danny Green doing very well, and a young Peter Sellers giving us just a hint of the talent yet to come. The star of the show however has to be Katie Johnson as Mrs. Wilberforce. She brings a charming level of innocence that belies an underlying strength that just gives a hint that she may understand more than she is letting on. It is an absolutely outstanding piece of work.

The plot of the film is a rather laid back affair set mainly (apart from the heist) in Mrs. Wilberforce's house, thus giving it more of the feeling of a play than a film. This lack of action shouldn’t put you off, neither should the lack of blatant in your face humor. The film is an altogether subtler affair. It is like a beautifully made Swiss watch with each well crafted scene neatly linked to the next to form a film that is even better than it's parts. This is especially true or the latter part of the film when the criminal’s plans begin to fall apart and they turn on each other. This is where the film truly excels as it leads to a humorously clever conclusion.

The script works so well because it is a relatively simple affair. There are no complex heists or pointless subplots it is a story about an old woman unwittingly ruining the plans of a gang of hardened criminals and their attempts to deal with her. Along the way there are some outstanding comic scenes none more so than when Mrs. Wilberforce's friend turn up for a tea party and the gang have to behave themselves. It is smart and funny and ends with a rather unexpected conclusion and a pay off to a gag set up a in the very first scene.

The Ladykillers is a perfect example of the Ealing comedy. Rather dated it's true but a masterpiece of quality acting and comic timing. Full credit must be given to director Alexander Mackendrick for such an accomplished job (the arrival of Professor Marcus in silhouette is brilliant). It is humor from a different era where the audience is treated as having a bit of intelligence and the jokes don't come from the lavatory. It is a classic of the sort that is now sadly missing (and with the remake can not recreated).

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home