5 August 2006 | UncleJack
The most exuberant of Ealing Comedies
This is a gentle understated English comedy, a classic example of Ealing Studios' output of the 1950s. But paradoxically what makes it most remarkable is its sheer exuberance, the unconcealed glee of Holland and Pendlebury as they revel in the success of their audacious plan. Their first meeting after seeing each other at the police station, the drunken return to their rooms after their celebratory meal and of course the famous descent of the Eiffel Tower, their laughter echoing the giggles of the schoolgirls spiralling round and round before falling dizzily out at the bottom.
Painting and sculpture were Pendlebury's wings, his escape from his "unspeakably hideous" business occupation. But when Holland delicately introduces him to his own dream of twenty years' to escape - and not just metaphorically - from life as a nonentity, Pendlebury is drawn in. The scenes in the Balmoral Private Hotel in Lavender Hill are outstanding, and the sparse dialogue allows Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway to shine as Holland suggests to Pendlebury how gold might be smuggled out of the country. "Hohohoho; By Jove, Holland, it is a good job we are both honest men." "It is indeed, Pendlebury."
Later in the film, the plot stands less well up to scrutiny but Guinness and Holloway are easily able to carry the viewers' attention. Chases that turn into farces often don't work in this style of British film, but here again Holland and Pendlebury carry such energy and excitement that they fit in well, and I am sure that even in nineteen fifties Britain, large numbers of the audience will have grasped the ironic humour of the policeman singing "Old MacDonald," in addition to those laughing at the straightforward ludicrousness of the scene.
Aficionados of British postwar comedy will enjoy this film, and because it lacks the dryness of say, "Kind Hearts and Coronets" or "The Ladykillers" it provides a more accessible introduction for those who are new to this most wonderful of genres.