Ealing Comedies are nowadays regarded as classic British comedies. They were part of the comedy which came out of a British Studio, in the 1940's and 1950's.
One such Classic film was the final offering, from the Ealing Studios. The Ladykillers, has been remade in recent years with the lead role going to Tom Hanks, and the scene shifting to America.
However, the original Ladykillers, was set in London in that black and white post war era of the 1950's and is infinitely superior.
Released in 1955, it portrays that period exceptionally well.
As a black comedy it has more humour than blackness. Alec Guiness, as Professor Marcus, is the leader of a gang of thieves who are about to commit a perfect crime.
As a goofy looking, British eccentric, it should be an easy crime to commit, as no-one would imagine that Professor Marcus was a criminal. However, one or two of his gang, make unlikely looking members of a this refined musical group, which is their cover.
So, disguised as a group of classical musicians they hold regular practise or rehearsal sessions, at Professor Marcus's lodgings. This boarding house is run by a sweet old dear called Mrs Wilberforce.
She is christened Mrs Lopsided by the gang, for reasons, which will soon become clear why, when you watch the film. Under cover of these get meetings they plan the 'job' well. Unwittingly Mrs Wilberforce becomes part of the robbery and eventually she becomes a problem that needs solving.
I shall leave the plot there for you to discover if you choose to watch this film.
The gang is made up of:-
- Alec Guiness - Professor Marcus,
- Peter Sellers - Mr Robinson.
- Herbert Lom - Mr Harvey
- Cecil Parker - Major Courtney.
- Danny Green - Mr Lawson.
All these actors were famous in their day.
Herbert Lom often played more serious roles but you will probably remember him as the 'slowly going insane' police chief in the Pink Panther Films.
Alec Guiness proved himself equally at home in the comedy genre as he was in thrillers, and was still acting until fairly recently..
Cecil Parker usually played the slightly upper crust English Gentleman in old black and white, British comedy films.
Danny Green plays an ex-boxer in this film and that role became a common one for him.
Peter Sellers was quite young in this film as it was made early in his career.
Supporting this superb cast there are many famous actors, some still unknown in 1955, and some with only minor roles. Jack Warner, from Dixon of Dock Green fame, played a police superintendent, as usual. Frankie Howerd had a small role as a barrow boy, who gets on the wrong side of Mrs Wilberforce. Kenneth Connor as a taxi driver and Stratford Johns as a security guard were unaccredited in the cast, as was Arthur Mullard.
This film portrays an age of innocence.
Despite the crime, which would have been shocking in it's day, it all seems so innocent. The completely oblivious Mrs Wilberforce is so gullible, unintentionally funny and yet so endearing.
The humour is gentle but there are some really funny scenes and the odd dark one. Mrs Lopsided and her quirky house remind me of similar properties, and old dears, near where I lived as a child. The siting of this house, somewhat, out on a limb, near to a railway line and railway station, is crucial to the plot. The old steam trains add to the dreary 1950's atmosphere.
The Ladykillers has a few peculiar twists but it's greatness, for me, is in the fabulous characters, actors, style, scenery and it's humour. It is a film from that era when good always seemed triumph over evil, in films and, despite the criminal element in the plot, contains nothing in the least offensive. This makes it suitable for all age groups to watch.
If you have only ever watched the version with Tom Hanks, try and check the original out, as it far surpasses the remake, on all counts.
I love this film for it's nostalgia, wacky humour and stylish script.
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.
The screenplay and story are by the American William Rose. He was nominated for an academy award for the Ladykillers and won a BAFTA for this screenplay.