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Friday, 27 July 2012

Classic Film Review: The Ladykillers (1955)

This Ealing Studios black comedy is about a group of robbers who pose as musicians to landlady, Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), while they pull off a job at Kings Cross. Their plan involves using Mrs Wilberforce to travel unknowingly with the stolen goods back to her house, foxing the police who would expect them to be taken straight out of the station by train. It's ingenious, really, but they underestimate the difficulty of working with Mrs Wilberforce. When she uncovers their plot she insists they turn themselves in - the gang know they have to act but who will get the job of keeping her quiet permanently?

The gang are 'Professor Marcus' (Alec Guinness), 'Major Courtney' (Cecil Parker), 'Mr Harvey' (Herbert Lom), 'Mr Robinson' (Peter Sellers) and 'Mr Lawson' (Danny Green). Guinness is perfect as the creepy and unnerving leader whose facial expressions are a cross between hilarious and horrific. I'm gaining quite a liking for Cecil Parker - this is the third film I've seen him in lately (the others being Indiscreet (1958) and The Admirable Crichton (1957)) - and this performance cemented it. The rest of the gang are perfect for their parts but I have to say that Katie Johnson absolutely steals the film. From her initial appearance at the police station to tell officers that her friend didn't see a spaceship after all, she is the focal point for the action. Forgetting her umbrella at the station during the transportation phase almost puts the gang's plan in jeopardy but it's her reaction when she sees a fruit seller (Frankie Howerd) trying to stop a horse eating his fruit which is the major problem - her indignation very nearly causes a riot as she attacks him with her umbrella. In addition to Mrs Wilberforce herself there are her three birds to add to the gang's problems. When General Gordon (parrot) flies off the gang have to pursue it onto the rooftop.

Mrs Wilberforce's decaying house is wonderfully portrayed. The pictures don't hang straight because of the subsidence and when you want water you have to bang on the pipe with a mallet first. Her living room is an excellent turn of the century abode and she fits in it perfectly. There is also an excellent use of music throughout the film - from both string recordings to the comic theft music that plagues the gang as they commit their robbery.

This is a dark comedy, make no mistake. If you're adverse to the kind of 'accidents' that happen on railway tracks then don't watch this but if you like your humour black then this one's for you.


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