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When film studios are churning out rubbish like 'The Full Monty' and
'American Pie' under the heading of comedy, you have to wonder what sort
brainless morons are filling cinemas with laughter. It is nothing short of
tragic that gargantuan amounts of cash are being expended on useless
blow-outs like Titanic,Star Wars- The Phantom Menace, and just lately, The
Beach. When Ealing Studios ceased production, the cinema world was
very much poorer.
The Ladykillers is undoubtedly one of the finest comedies ever made, certainly the best Ealing film of them all. Here is a film from the golden age of British cinema that will forever amuse and entertain. It is easy to be nostalgic about these old films but they are still held in high regard for a good reason-they were made by people who knew the art of film making. Moreover, they were made at a time when a trip to the cinema was still a special occasion. So they were made with love and care and with respect for the audience.
The Ladykillers is unusual for an Ealing comedy, being made in colour. It would have worked just as well in black and white, possibly even etter.( I have watched it in black and white on TV by turning the colour controls off!) The location shots, which were done around the back of King's Cross station in London, capture forever something of the old London I used to know as a child.
I suppose they best description for this film is a comedy of a bank robbery gone wrong. The ensemble acting is of the highest order; Katie Johnson as Mrs. Wilberforce just about steals the film from Alec Guinness. The hilarious script leaves you wanting more, even though a lot of the comedy is based on sight gags; the extended scene when the supposed 'musicians' come downstairs one by one while the Boccherini Quintet continues playing is wonderful, as are the moments involving General Gordon the parrot. The cinematography is beautifully realised and so British.
Having read all of the comments on this film, I was suprised that so many American film lovers liked this film - British comedy like this doesn't usually travel well across the water. So a sincere big thank you to all of you guys over there who commented favourably on The Ladykillers.
I don't think that we will ever see the return of institutions like Ealing Studios again, so The Ladykillers should be watched, enjoyed and loved by generations of film lovers to come.
Mrs. Wilberforce, a senile old biddy living with her parrot in a
Victorian townhouse, is just sitting down to take her lonesome afternoon
when she hears the bell ring. Rare occasion. She opens the door to
a striking-looking gentleman with lank hair and an air of indefinable
loucheness. "Hello," he says, smiling graciously and instantly defining
loucheness -- his atrocious teeth. "I understand you have rooms to let."
The prospective tenant is played by Alec Guinness, a long time before he attained the respectable old age that would make him such a convincing guru in Star Wars. Here he's in his lusty comedic prime, and from the moment he makes his unforgettable entrance, you know The Ladykillers is going to be a classic. Somehow, despite the silly cartoonishness of the story -- a meddlesome old lady foils the well-laid plans of a group of a bumbling bank robbers -- this is an ultra-sophisticated film. And despite the track record of director Alexander MacKendrick, despite the inspired performances he elicits from his cast, chief credit for its success must go to screenwriter William Rose. Most other comedies of the era, even those MacKendrick directed, suffer from forced repartee and obvious one-liners, making the viewer feel like an anchor is resting atop his head. Rose -- living up to his name -- has a lighter touch, reminiscent of the best comedies of recent years ( namely Rushmore. ) He invests each and every scene with a memorable hook, while at the same time forswearing even the least contrivance.
For an example, take the scene where Mrs. Wilberforce confiscates the crooks' cello case full of "lolly" and stashes it in a locked closet. In almost any other movie, this emergency would be used as set-up, a new problem to solve, an excuse to pad the running time. In The Ladykillers, however, the crooks simply wait a few seconds until the old bat is gone, at which point one of them, the beefy one, rolls his eyes, raises his right arm, and negligently -- it's such a dainty little lock -- staves the closet in. Now that may not sound like much written here, it may not even sound very amusing, but when every scene in the movie boasts a similar surprise, the cumulative effect is exhilarating. Whether or not you enjoy the individual gags.
For some reason, The Ladykillers is never screened, and written about even less. I can ALMOST understand the latter kind of neglect -- it's a hard movie to write about because, for all the talent and skill of its creators, it doesn't give you a lot to chew on. But while you're watching, it's an incomparable entertainment, one of those movies where every line of dialogue, every camera angle, every twist and turn in the story is felicitously, rapturously perfect. A true addiction.
The humor in this movie is not only British, which is notoriously
misunderstood by American audiences (and vice versa), which is odd
because both the writer and director were American, but it is also now
five decades old. Only the best American comedies have lasted anywhere
near that long (consider, for example, the sad fate of many of the
movies that people thought were really funny in the 80s Police
Academy, anyone?). The reason The Ladykillers has not only survived but
has now been remade is because the comedy in it is not only effective,
but it is intelligent, and it is very difficult not to be impressed by
a comedy with a brain.
Alec Guinness is in top form as the leader of the gang, whose members reflects criminals of all walks of life. The ingenious plan is to rent out a room from a sweet old lady while they pull off a heist. The comedy, for me, lies in the difference between what is planned and what is played out, particularly in the difficulties that the gang of criminals have in outsmarting a sweet old lady who acts like a grandmother supervising a group of unruly grandchildren.
The problem that the movie has is that the pace is very slow and much of the comedy has faded over the years, but structurally and intellectually it remains a respectable film, even more now in comparison to its disastrous remake. What went wrong in the remake is that they did not maintain who the character of Mrs. Wilberforce was, because it was the juxtaposition of her as a frail old woman surrounded by toughened criminals that made it funny when things kept going wrong in their plan. In the remake she is replaced by Mrs. Munson, a tough-talking woman who was to be feared from the outset. There is no irony in being overpowered by someone more powerful than yourself from the outset, which I imagine is why the remake also featured Marlon Wayans and a case of irritable bowel syndrome, which I have never seen used in an even remotely amusing way.
While the original film may be a bit too slow for modern audiences, it is indeed charming the way 87-year-old Mrs. Wilberforce continually foils their carefully thought out plans, many times inadvertently. Alec Guinness is wonderful as the band's leader, wearing outrageous false teeth, nearly rivaling Lon Chaney as the man of a thousand faces, and Peter Sellers is one of the criminals as well. I'm no expert about British comedies or Alec Guinness' early works, but I can certainly tell enough from watching this movie that the Coen Brothers' remake did nothing to impress the British about Hollywood's respect for the classics.
Where did they dig up Katie Johnson? How she balances the act of a sweet old lady who is respected yet still patronized with the toughness of a strong woman who upholds justice is a joy to watch. All the while completely unawares of the true danger surrounding her. Her performance is simply great and side-splittingly funny. The rest of the cast display their usual talents, particularly the fumbling of Cecil Parker and the mean looking Herbert Lom. It's also interesting to see a very young Peter Sellers who would soon hit his stride a few years later. The dark lighting and moody scenes are perfect for this comedy and are very typical of British films of the era, so the look is familiar right away as you begin to watch. The "Tea Party" scene is just a riot. Odd to see so many negative comments on the film - it's one of if not the best Ealing film and deservedly regarded as one the best comedies of all time. They just dont make them like this anymore.
Soon after this atmospheric black comedy begins, aged widow Johnson putters around her house (situated near a railyard) as an imposing shadow seems to peer at her from every window (accented by dramatic music.) When she opens the door, there stands Guinness, in one of his amusingly creepy personas. He rents a room from the lady and arranges to have his cronies come over to practice their quintet. Unfortunately, he has something else in mind and the quintet is merely a cover for a greater plan. The film has detail, wit and character to spare. Guinness (and his friends, played by legendary character actors like Sellars and Lom) are a funny, motley lot. However, the story really belongs to Johnson. Shamefully underbilled and unsung, she perfectly embodies the role at hand and is incredibly memorable in her understated sweetness and supposed vulnerability. This is a woman who looks for the best in everything and everyone and fights injustice whenever she encounters it. Johnson gives a quiet, yet towering performance and it is astonishing how disrespectful her billing is in the film and how little she's been given even in recent packaging. There is nothing wrong with Guinness's work, but this is Johnson's film. (Ironically, according to Robert Osborne, a younger actress was cast in the film, to be made up as older, because the producers felt that the sometimes demanding director would be too much for Johnson to bear. However, that actress died before filming, so Johnson was used and got on fine!) It is truly the type of film that won't be made again. (It may be RE-made, but never with the same quaint, understated style, nor with such polished actors.)
One of the Ealing studio's finest achievements, this immensely entertaining
crime caper looks at first glance to be pure, inconsequential entertainment.
But it doubles as a sly, subtle rummage around the psychology of the
respectable, old-fashioned middle classes, with Katie Johnson deserving top
billing alongside Alec Guinness (she doesn't get it) for her remarkable turn
as the lady in question, the redoubtable Mrs Wilberforce.
No less than the not-quite-ruthless-enough gang of criminals who scheme in her house, she lives in her own private universe with its own particular rules and values. Though she begins the film as the stereotype of a maddeningly officious pillar of local society, it gradually emerges that there is a freer as well as shrewder spirit locked in there than meets the eye. The umbrella she is always losing (she herself suggests that she unconsciously _wants_ to lose it), the escapologist parrot, and most poignantly the memory of a 21st birthday party interrupted by the end of the Victorian age, all hint at an inner life that the comic plot could easily have done without. The screenplay, deservedly Oscar-nominated, has the genius and economy to provide us with all these hints without ever slowing down a tightly-edited and superbly directed narrative.
The other characters are a good deal simpler, but Alec Guinness is in impressively seedy form as 'Professor' Marcus and Cecil Parker makes an appealing Major. Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom don't have a great deal to do and don't try to hog the limelight, but there's a nice cameo from Frankie Howerd. Ealing went out on a high.
Alec Guiness has to be one of the greatest actors of all time, and his
role in The Lady Killers does not buck the trend. From the first moment
I saw his dark shape looming through the doorway, I knew the character
would be well creepy. And boy was it! With that horrible grin, those
horrible teeth and that horrible laugh, it's little wonder that even
the grim Herbert Lom starts to get a little freaked out.
Nevertheless, Katie Johnson as the infuriating Mrs Wilberforce almost succeeds in stealing the show. There cannot be a more annoying person in the world, from the point of view of policemen, criminals and baggage handlers alike.
The best scene of all, in my opinion, is the very last one, but I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. I haven't actually watched the re-make of the film, and I'm certainly a big Tom Hanks fan, but I think it must be hard-pressed to beat this hilarious original. 8 out of 10. Obviously, it's rather old-fashioned and might not appeal to everyone's sense of humour. Ko, Izzy.
I won't go on about this, but I think this is one of the funniest
comedies I've ever watched. So did my ten-year-old, with whom I've
watched it many times on tape. I say "one of the funniest" deliberately
because this is about as good as it gets, and other comedies have
reached that same asymptotic height -- "Dr. Strangelove," for instance,
or "Some Like it Hot," -- but none have, or is ever likely to, exceed
Most of what can be said about this Ealing Comedy has already been said and I won't repeat it. I will add, however, one generally overlooked point. The principal cockatoo, "General Gordon," sees Professor Marcus's shadow on the door and squawks "SOS" in Morse code. One of the scenes I find most amusing, in a film filled with amusing scenes, is when Peter Sellers returns to the old house to find his four thuggish friends trapped in a room full of chirping old ladies in lavender and frothy lace. The thieves hold a cup of tea in one hand and a pastry in the other, except for Guiness who is draped scowling over a player piano that is tinkling out "Silver Threads Among the Gold."
If you feel yourself falling into a funk, this is the one to watch. Well, okay, it's the one to watch anyway. A non pareil, light years better than my spelling of French.
London, 1955. Professor Marcus (Alex Guinness) plans to rob two armored cars
with the help of a gang of crooks, played by an ensemble group of actors.
They include: Louis (Herbert Lom), The Mayor (Cecil Parker), One-Round
(Danny Green) and Harry (Peter Sellers). None of the men have previously met
each other, but join together for the single heist.
Their strategic planning takes place in the upstairs of a Victorian home owned by Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), a somewhat eccentric older woman who is under the impression that Professor Marcus and his "friends" are part of a music orchestra and unite daily to rehearse. This leads to a film comprised of misconceptions, confusion, and bumbling antics, as the Professor has to spend more of his time keeping Mrs. Wilberforce off their backs than devoting it to planning the robbery.
The film shares resemblance to Danny DeVito's "Duplex" in the scenes where Mrs. Wilberforce continuously interrupts the criminals' scheming, asking them to run errands for her. They reluctantly put up with her constant irritating questions and demands, since she is unknowingly a vital ingredient of their plan. They must use Mrs. Wilberforce in their robbery, and after a while she realizes this, then demands that they return the money, which leads them to the conclusion that they must kill the old woman or else risk losing their entire fortune. However, their constant mistakes and arguments only postpone the inevitable, and it soon seems that the group of tough guys aren't so tough after all. "I can't! I can't!" screams one of the criminals when he pulls the shortest toothpick and is handed the task of "whacking" the poor sweet lady.
All actors are at their peeks here -- Guinness as the Professor is superb, but Sellers in his screen debut is especially noteworthy. The script by William Rose relies on macabre humor rather than constant slapstick. Admittedly, I expected the former when I sat down to see the film, although I came away rather surprised at its sophistication.
The Coen Brothers remade the film in 2004, although the remake failed to capture the essence of this dark comedy. Made before political correctness (in the Coens' version there is the token black character of course), this is a delightfully irreverent black comedy. To be fair, most of the jokes don't hold up as well nowadays. It does not deliver a constant barrage of jokes, but rather a steady mix of black humor and plot -- a very good plot, too. One that keeps our interest and quite often manages to make us smile. "The Ladykillers" is a rare treat, better than the remake, a classic of the genre, and something that will be remembered years from now. It's a real gem of a movie, hard to devote long paragraphs to, much easier to devote 100 minutes of your life to.
I was fortunate that Channel 4 in the UK showed this original classic film
at the same time the new remake was about to hit the cinema screens. Many
thanks therefore for providing two hours of classic cinema that showed
clearly why Americans should not bother with naff remakes.
A classic ensemble of some of the UK's finest acting talent o the time pull of a heist in the centre of London but when their landlady finds out what they are up to, a bizarre sequence of events leads the gang to turn on each other in a brilliant and amusingly written, directed and produced film.
Whilst railway nostalgists will be wondering at the vintage footage of steam hauled trains coming out of St Pancras station and goods yard, others will be marvelling at the brilliant characterisations and script that makes this a timeless classic from Ealing studios.
And then the Americans decide on an Americanised remake WHY?!? Apparently we are promised [unnecessary] remakes of all of the Ealing comedy classics can't wait for the Titfield Thunderbolt to be remade with a Class 66 and a 4-VEP then!
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