mon 23/11/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: The Ladykillers | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The Ladykillers

DVD/Blu-ray: The Ladykillers

The last great Ealing Comedy, in a pristine restored print

'Are we supposed to make noises with these things?' Alec Guinness and accomplices in 'The Ladykillers'

Much has been made of The Ladykillers having being directed by a Scot (Alexander Mackendrick) from a screenplay written by an American (William Rose). This last great Ealing comedy shares its dark tone and leading actor with Robert Hamer’s sublime Kind Hearts and Coronets, but in many respects it stands alone.

Much has been made of The Ladykillers having being directed by a Scot (Alexander Mackendrick) from a screenplay written by an American (William Rose). This last great Ealing comedy shares its dark tone and leading actor with Robert Hamer’s sublime Kind Hearts and Coronets, but in many respects it stands alone. The Ladykillers is sharp and unsentimental, a brilliant London noir. There’s not a bum note: script, design, casting and pacing are close to perfection, the whole thing wrapped up in just 97 minutes.

Rose and MacKendrick’s conceit was to have a genteel old lady defeating a criminal gang, and for its first half, The Ladykillers plays out like classic heist movie. Alec Guinness’s snaggle-toothed Professor Marcus (a dead ringer for Alistair Sim) rents a suite of rooms from Katie Johnson’s Mrs Wilberforce, his team plotting to rob a security van at nearby King’s Cross Station before splitting the proceeds and dispersing. Disguising themselves as an amateur string quintet, they scheme away, accompanied by 78rpm records of Boccherini and Haydn. Cecil :Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and Danny Green convince as thugs but not as musicians. Mrs Wilberforce compliments Green’s ‘One Round’ Lawson on his cello playing and asks where he studied, the confused Lawson replying, “I just sort of picked it up.”

Ladykillers packshotShot in the streets around King’s Cross, the robbery is superbly staged, the gag being that Mrs Wilberforce is tricked into retrieving the loot and taking it back to her house for the gang to collect later. One Round’s cello case gets stuck in the door as he leaves, the resultant shower of bank notes anticipating a climactic scene in Kubrick’s The Killing, released a year later. The extended final act sees the group repeatedly fail to kill their host whilst unwittingly dispatching one another, Mrs Wilberforce ultimately left with the spoils. Marcus’s dodgy backstory is hinted at early on, Lom’s Louis describing his plan as “something dredged up in the booby hatch,” Guinness responding with a volley of twitches and shudders. Sellers’ Harry Robinson is all swagger and charm, with Louis the one character you can actually imagine committing murder. Johnson’s character is a charming Edwardian relic, out of place in a rapidly changing post-war London. Her cluttered house, perched over a railway tunnel and blighted by subsidence, is a character in itself. Jack Warner is the embodiment of old-school policing, and there’s a scene stealing cameo from a young Frankie Howerd.

The restored 4K image looks terrific, and one of this set’s bonus features is examination of Mackendrick’s clever use of colour in The Ladykillers - particularly the queasy reds and greens in the room where Marcus and his accomplices hide out. An extract from a 1980s BBC Omnibus documentary about Ealing Studios includes interviews with director and scriptwriter, and the short Investigating the Ladykillers features Terence Davies, Ronald Harwood and Reece Shearsmith discussing the impact of the film on their own work. And a brief locations featurette from broadcaster Alan Dein demonstrates that, despite the large scale redevelopment of King’s Cross and St Pancras, much of 1955 London is still very recognisable.

@GrahamRickson

the cluttered house, perched over a railway tunnel and blighted by subsidence, is a character in itself

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Comments

IF the lead image comes from the 'pristine restored print,' it doesn't look too good.

The 'official' stills haven't been subjected to a 4K restoration! Have a look at the images on this link: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2020/oct/23/on-set-eali...

Not Cecil Hardwick but Cecil Parker.

Thanks Mike - typo duly corrected.

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters