The Ladykillers (1955)

 

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Rating: The Good – 83.4
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Duration: 91 mins
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Stars: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker

Timeless Ealing comedy hailing from a time when writing, wit, and expert timing was what drove comedies. Alec Guinness is Professor Marcus who rents a room from the indomitable Mrs Wilberforce so that he and his gang of thieves, posing as a string quintet, can plan their next robbery. Writer William Rose apparently dreamed the entire story from start to finish and it’s not difficult to see how, so unpredictable and joyously imaginative is the progression of this tale.

The cast are in their element with Guinness’ creepy mastermind and Katie Johnson’s “Mrs Lopsided”  being the pick of the bunch. Guinness is terrifically sinister in a performance that is cross between Alastair Sim’s Mr Squales (from London Belongs to Me) and Nosferatu! Johnson on the other hand is simply a delight to behold as the kind but wily old bird whom everyone dismisses as senile. Peter Sellers’ sly spiv and Danny Green’s big lug are in there too to help round out the “quartet” and thanks to Rose’s marvelous script, the gang and their wacky caper rank among the most memorable in movie history.

Alexander Mackendrick’s feel for and timing with the camera is every bit as precise as his illustrious cast but it must be confessed that, nostalgic resonance aside, the mid-50’s Technicolor can be quite harsh on the eyes (though the recent StudioCanal blu-ray looks much cleaner). That doesn’t matter very much because the skill with which the physical comedy is choreographed and captured is the stuff of pure genius. From the body disposal sequences to the parrot chasing episodes, this is as funny as screwball comedy gets.

The Ealing comedies represent a moment in time when filmmakers knew exactly what they we’re doing and weren’t trying to con the audience into laughing because they think they should or because the jokes abide by some adolescent archetype of riskiness. The Ladykillers is perhaps the finest example of such effortless and intelligent humour.

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