A gang planning a 'job' find themselves living with a little old lady, who thinks they are musicians. When the gang set out to kill Mrs Wilberforce, they run into one problem after another, and they get what they deserve.Written by
The tunnel mouth is the south end of Copenhagen Tunnel, the second tunnel on the main line out of King's Cross station. There are real houses in the area, but the rear exterior of Mrs. Wilberforce's house is a set built in front of a blank wall. Exterior scenes at the front of the house were shot on Argyle Street, about 3/4 mile south. The interiors are a studio set. See more »
Some of the background images of the streets are obviously back-projection. The matte work is clearly a different shade from the actors in the foreground. See more »
A classic crime comedy that evidently can't be updated.
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.
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