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  • jrichards2-123 October 2004
    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.
  • 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 of 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 suddenly 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.
  • 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.
  • Mrs. Wilberforce, a senile old biddy living with her parrot in a ramshackle Victorian townhouse, is just sitting down to take her lonesome afternoon tea when she hears the bell ring. Rare occasion. She opens the door to reveal a striking-looking gentleman with lank hair and an air of indefinable loucheness. "Hello," he says, smiling graciously and instantly defining his 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • rmax30482317 August 2002
    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 it.

    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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    SPOILERS

    Once upon a time the British produced some of the finest comedy in the world. With legends like Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness and Frankie Howard, the country churned wonderful films out at an extraordinary rate. One of the finest of these was the Ealing production of "The Ladykillers".

    Little old Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) is looking for a tenant for her spare rooms. Turning up one day, the room is taken by the mysterious Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness). Telling Mrs Wilberforce that he and his friends are an amateur band, the Professor is in fact planning a robbery. Not taking account of the people human factor though, he doesn't take account of the involvement of Mrs Wilberforce.

    It's with films like this that we are shown just how things were done better in the old days. Recently remade into a modern American version, this original of the film is vastly superior with a better cast and a considerably darker feel. This is helped in particular by an absolutely stunning turn by Guinness as the criminal genius. He's not alone however. Aided by his gang of criminals, including Peter Sellers and Cecil Parker, Guinness is also aided in the film by some great cameos by Frankie Howard and Kenneth Connor.

    Aside from the cast, the true beauty of this film is the script and the plot. The way events turn against the gang and life gets increasingly uncomfortable is superbly handled, and the final Alec Guinness resolution is a moment to be remembered.

    All in all, it's films like "The Ladykillers" which remind us of just how good comedy should be. At only just over 90minutes, the film never drags and entertains from start to finish. Most modern comedians seem to rely on one joke repeated constantly. As a result, it's nice to see a film which still feels fresh and funny, fifty years after it was first released. If you want to watch a good comedy, ignore the modern stuff and go for this classic.
  • 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!
  • If you had to choose a film that represented British Cinema at its best, you'd be hard-pressed to find one better than "The Ladykillers". The story, the sets, the actors, the photography, the humour, are all perfect. There isn't a bad performance anywhere, and that goes for everyone, including those who only briefly appear. The ladies who arrive for an afternoon tea party are all wonderful. Even the parrot, who creates mayhem amongst the thieves by escaping and flying around the room, puts in a perfect performance. Curiously the story is by an American, yet he has managed to portray all the idiosyncrasies that makes British humour what is is. The wonderful thing about the bunch of thieves is that they are all equally excellent. Alec Guinness with his crooked teeth, Peter Sellers' spiv, Herbert Lom's dark psychopath, Cecil Parker's colonel character and Danny Green's dumb heavyweight - with the wonderful nickname of one-round. The cameo performances of people like Frankie Howerd, Jack Warner, just add to the completeness of the film. But Katie Johnson is absolutely superb and the house she lives in, a fantastic creation of a Victorian house precariously sitting on top of a railway tunnel. The ending is incredible and if you thought that it might tail off here, well it doesn't. I cannot recommend it enough. Any student of British Cinema or those just wanting a really good laugh, this is the film to start with.
  • Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) lodges five elegant men (Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and Danny Green) in her home, who intend to rehearse string quintet music. Indeed, they are five small-time thieves having a very well planned strategy to robber an armored car. They use the naive Mrs. Wilberforce to bring the stolen money to her home. When they are leaving the house, an incident with the dumb One-Round (Danny Green) reveals the plan to the old lady. The success of the robbery fails due to the human element. The gang decides that she must be eliminated, but none of them has courage for killing her. A very funny end closes this great sarcastic black humor British comedy. Maybe what it is more amazing is that this film was made in 1955, and in 2003 it remains very funny and has not aged. The performance of the cast and the direction are fantastic in this movie. Katie Johnson is very irritating with her naive logic and procedures. An enjoyable classic in the genre, indicated for all public. As another user commented in IMDB, "a comedy that will live forever". My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): `O Quinteto da Morte' (`The Quintet of the Death')
  • When I first saw this film I was somewhat amazed by what appeared to be a lazy construction. The first half of it, leading to the armored car robbery, was fairly straightforward, as "Professor" Marcus and his cronies put together their plan, and carry it out, with little Mrs. Wilberforce used as an unwitting courier of the cash. But from the end of the robbery to the conclusion the film seems to straggle on. It is only upon watching it three or four times that the mutual destruction of the criminals makes more and more sense, and the permanent victory of the little old lady caps off the film very satisfactorily indeed.

    Mrs. Wilberforce, elderly, crotchety (but in a gentle and genteel way), and very moral, is the personification of an earlier Britain - the Victorian/Edwardian period, where right was right and wrong was wrong. She is able to survive in her little corner of London because she is frail and the local authorities (the police represented by Jack Warner and Philip Stainton) "control her" by showing a degree of respect for her feelings and opinions. At the beginning of the film she is shown making her complaint (a daily occurrence) which they know are a nuisance and time-waster, but which they allow her the luxury to bring up. In her costume throughout the film, her real symbol is her umbrella. She always carries it, even when it is sunny out. The umbrella is a symbol of respect too - in one scene a police officer stops her to return the umbrella when she leaves it behind accidentally. Umbrellas are for protection, like Victorian morality is supposed to be. Interestingly enough, at the tail end of the film, when she is convinced by the police (who don't realize it) to keep the stolen money, her morality is dented, and she abandons her old umbrella.

    Professor Marcus and his gang invade her home (peacefully, to be sure, as amateur musicians). They represent more modern times. Major Claude Courtney (Cecil Parker) is the military man, no longer a figure of respect but of shriveled honor - a comment (maybe) of the decline of the military and aristocracy and upper classes in 20th Century England. One Round and Harry are the urban proletariat - the uneducated lugs (although with a struggling morality that surprises them) and the "teddy boys" ready to break down society for fun and profit. Louis, with his vague foreign appearance and menace, is the waves of immigrants who have entered Britain, changing it's old courtesies and tolerance for age, honor, and justice. And Professor Marcus - he is a variant in the intelligentsia - an opportunist ready to get ahead by subterfuges (like pretending to play "Boccherini" quintets), and always ready with some sophistry as an argument (like his argument about the robbery boils down to some pittance added to the insurance premiums of England). They don't represent all of 20th Century England, but it is an intriguing cross section.

    The film has lovely, unexpected charms to it. In the middle of planning the demise of Mrs. Wilberforce, Marcus and his cohorts (and Mrs. W.) find her elderly friends have come over for a weekly visit. For at least an hour or two these guests are in the house. Mrs. Wilberforce is as upset about it as Marcus and his gang, but her anger is at the thieves - she insists (as though they were going to do so) that they refrain from doing anything that would embarrass her before her oldest friends. Louis, the only one who is not there (he's parking the getaway car on a side street) returns to be handed a teacup, and to watch the others assisting the old ladies in the singing of "Silver Threads Among the Gold". Guinness's look of helplessness at the player piano is a sight to behold.

    There are small treasures. When (at a moment of fear and excitement) Marcus , the Major, One Round, and Harry leave the bedroom, they accidentally leave the "Boccherini" piece playing on the record player. Louis has no intention of leaving to assist them (in feeding medicine to Mrs. Wilberforce's parrot), but just sits staring angrily into space, as the record continues playing. Then it starts skipping. Louis picks it up, looks at the label, and smashes the record he's come to hate.

    Another great moment is when Mrs. Wilberforce starts reminiscing to the others of her coming out party on January 22, 1901. She describes how she was finely dressed up, and all her friends came, and they had a splendid time dancing and eating. Then came word from her father they had to end, because the old queen died. And everyone left. Miss Johnson relays that dialog with as sweet softness, which her age makes one momentarily remember the end of the Victorian age (for it is the death of Queen Victoria that ended her party). But after she leaves the room the entire effect is marvelously punctured by Danny Green (One-Round). Looking totally baffled, he turns to the others and asks, "What is she talking about? Old Queen Who?"

    The film may not be the best "black comedy" in cinema (MONSIEUR VERDOUX and KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS are just as good choices for that slot) but it is in the top ten films of that type. And ten is what I give it here.
  • When it comes to comedy, my favourite source is fast becoming the Ealing Studios films of the late 1940s and 1950s. The British have a certain down-to-earth and somewhat-warped sense of humour, and 'The Ladykillers' is the most excellent example I've yet come across. The first Ealing movie filmed in technicolour, and the final effort of director Alexander Mackendrick ('The Man in the White Suit,' 'Whisky Galore!') before he moved to Hollywood, 'The Ladykillers' is a delightfully black crime caper of murder and betrayal, the darkest comedy since Charles Chaplin turned wife-killer in 'Monsieur Verdoux (1947)' {interestingly, the working title of the latter was "The Ladykiller"}. In the urban jungle of post-War London, a gang of five criminals – headed by the evil mastermind, Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness) – plan the theft of £60,000, masquerading as a rehearsing string quintet to fool their sweet, proper and slightly senile old landlord (Katie Johnson). After a seemingly-successful heist, the old woman happens upon the stolen "lolly," and her confused mind, not quite comprehending the gravity of her situation, insists that the men return the money. Fearing that she will bring their entire plan crumbling down, the five conspirators agree that the death of old Mrs. Wilberforce is an unavoidable necessity, and yet none of them can quite bring themselves to do it.

    Above all else, what makes 'The Ladykillers' such a classic is its impeccable casting. Alec Guinness is almost unrecognisable as Professor Marcus, with the brilliant actor somehow finding a perfect balance of polite gentleman, calculating genius and cackling mad-man. The remainder of the criminal team comprises of the polite and civil Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), a no-nonsense foreign gangster (Herbert Lom), a child-like muscle-man with a warm heart (Danny Green) and an impatient Cockney Teddy boy (Peter Sellers, in one of his first major roles). Of course, the limelight is arguably stolen by the delightful Katie Johnson as the sweet, well-meaning grandmother who unknowingly resists all attempts to have her killed. Johnson, aged around 80 years at the time, won a BAFTA for her role, and plays her character with such warmth and innocence that you can't comprehend how anybody could even entertain the notion of knocking her off. The contrast and conflict between all the main characters provides the film's wacky core, and each man's inability to carry out the homicide leads to numerous thefts, betrayals and murders. Writer William Rose (and an uncredited Jimmy O'Connor) engineered the Oscar-nominated screenplay, the idea for which reportedly came to Rose in a dream.

    Mackendrick certainly had an inimitable style of comedy, and various little film-making quirks make 'The Ladykillers' particularly unique and memorable. Most of the violence is implied off-screen, and I absolutely loved the use of the approaching trains to signal that something unsavoury was about to take place. The blinding cloud of steam that accompanied each passing locomotive not only served to shield the audience from any unwanted violence, but also created a stifling atmosphere of the dreaded unknown; after all, the most unsettling thing is that which we can't see. In 2004, the talented Coen brothers attempted a remake of this black comedy classic, starring Tom Hanks, which was decent enough but ultimately disappointing. It makes you think: when two of Hollywood's greatest modern minds can't even come close to this Ealing gem, it really does allow you to appreciate what an outstanding cinematic achievement it was.
  • OK so I like it. Why? Well it is that intoxicating combination of dry black humour, pathos and perhaps a pleasing inevitability that whatever twist the film takes, you know it should be no other way.

    I cannot fault the cast, I regretted as a kid that I did not see Katie Johnson again (I know she made many other films, but I have never collided with them), whereas Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers were often featured on a Saturday Matinee.

    I am, however, pleasantly surprised at how well this film is rated by IMDb! Of course I would give it high marks, but it is very interesting to see how many other people from other nations both 'get it' and appreciate it. It is perhaps, these days, just a gentle farce with black edges where naivety blends in with irony, and I am not claiming that it makes me LoL the whole time. But it is eminently watchable and re-watchable and I would never hesitate to recommend it; indeed those who do not like it would probably not 'get me' either!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If you're going to call this film funny, it might be better to think of the word as meaning strange, rather than amusing. In truth The Ladykillers rarely provokes laugh-out-loud moments, but that doesn't make it a failure in its own terms as I would argue that it sets out to use humour for a different purpose. This film isn't a comedy; it's an absurdity.

    Take away the comedic elements that have dated slightly – Katie Johnson's story of alien visitors at the beginning seems rather twee now – and we're left with a core of dark humour that gives the film a very unsettling tone. In fact, it's the film's status as a black comedy that saves it for a modern audience, as it transforms it from a caper movie – it would seem very dated today – into something else entirely.

    This is obvious from Alec Guinness's make-up and performance. On the one hand all the elements that make up his character are traditionally funny: the false overbite, for example, his permanent smile, and his upper-class obsequiousness towards his landlady should be funny. They're contrasted though with a pallid complexion and thinning hair to emphasise a malnourished, gaunt appearance that looks as if he's recently done a lengthy stretch at Her Majesty's pleasure. So, when we first see him at her door, dramatically lowering his hat to reveal his face, it looks as if the doddering old lady has been visited by something that's just come tottering out of a graveyard.

    The rest of the gang contrast off each other – the size of the gang is crucial, since when Guinness is taken away we are left with an even number of thieves who can therefore be paired off against each other. As a consequence the humour of the fawning, inept major and the dumb, lovable oaf is offset and undermined by Herbert Lom's snarling gangster and Peter Sellers's amoral wideboy. By placing such disparate elements together on screen the fear of the less pleasant characters is offset, but also the comedy is drained from the funny characters and therefore the humour seems strange and slightly disturbing. This particularly affects the climax: the violence is slapstick, and yet at the same time it somehow isn't. Supposedly comic set-pieces, such as when the criminals are forced to endure a tea-party and sing-song around a piano become absurd – and from the moment we're told that the crime is now "a hanging matter" it becomes clear that this film cannot end in the cosy way that you might expect a comedy caper to.

    This works because of the quality of the acting, as Katie Johnson's performance as Mrs Wilberforce – despite being a comic exaggeration – keeps the film grounded in reality enough to offset the five grotesques that plot a robbery under her lopsided roof (even the main location of the film is distorted in a slightly spooky way, and the motif of attempting to straighten the pictures is continued throughout the film to emphasise discomfort at this peculiar place). Meanwhile the five criminal characters are played with conviction that immerses the viewer in their world, creating a series of believable caricatures that further create the atmosphere of the film.

    The Ladykillers is a classic film, and uses comedy in a way that's about as sophisticated as anything I've ever seen. Just don't expect to actually laugh.
  • A comedy from another place and another time, that right now seems so long ago and far away, `The Ladykillers,' directed by Alexander Mackendrick, stars Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom, and stands as a perfect example of how charming, delightful, civilized and yes, `funny,' a film can be when approached with intelligence and respect for the audience. Guinness plays Professor Marcus, who puts together a gang to pull off the `perfect' robbery he has concocted. But, as it always is with all things `perfect,' it quickly goes awry for the gang, thanks to the involvement of an old lady (Katie Johnson), in whose house Marcus has taken rooms. And as the situation in which the gang finds themselves escalates as they try to put things to rights, the audience is treated to an exemplary piece of truly humorous and memorable cinema. Guinness anchors the farce with a superb characterization (even to altering his appearance with false teeth) of the Professor. It's a prime example of just how great a character actor Guinness was; as in all of his films, he creates a total character of Marcus, inside and out, beginning with the attitude and right on down to the smallest details that many actors would deem insignificant. There is a studied consistency he maintains throughout the film that would stand up to the closest scrutiny; it is not by accident that he is considered by many to be one of greatest actors of our times. And how great to see the youthful Peter Sellers in one of his earliest roles. Watch closely and you can see traces of the unique mannerisms that would mark his career; the slight hesitations, the inward, subtle consideration of the status quo and the sense he conveys in a split second that Murphy's Law is about to go into effect. He makes Harry, a member of the hapless gang, a memorable character. Herbert Lom (as Louis, in this precursor to his pairing with Sellers some twenty years later in the `Pink Panther' movies), Parker (Major Courtney) and Danny Green (One-Round) round out the gang, the likes of which you have never seen before, nor in all probability will ever see again, because-- as the saying goes-- they just don't make ‘em like this any more. The supporting cast includes Jack Warner (The Superintendent), Philip Stainton (Sergeant), Kenneth Connor (Cab Driver) and Ewan Roberts (Constable). Clever and sophisticated, `The Ladykillers' is a testimony to just how grand and uplifting comedy can be, without resorting to the gross and often unpalatable `humor' upon which so many of today's contemporary comedies seem to depend. Not to say that today's comedies are no good; it's just that they so often lack the esteem and the `humanity'-- not to mention the longevity-- which lends itself to a film such as this one. Movies like this will be around long after most of the addle-brained Saturday Night Live induced fare is gone and forgotten. With the added bonus of having Guinness and Sellers together, this is a true classic in every sense of the word. This is what the magic of the movies is really all about. I rate this one 10/10.
  • This fantastic film is one of Ealing Studio's finest. Starring Alec Guinness at his finest, this funny, but not slapstick comedy is totally entertaining.

    For once, I am happy that my parents encouraged me to watch a film from days gone by. This, along with Fail Safe, and any Cagney film, are marvelous, and this could easily entertain today's kids too.

    And now, it IS available from DVD, as part of the Ealing Studios Comedy Collection, it has four titles, all on separate discs, with collectors postcards too. £30 is a small price to pay for this, the Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts & Coronets and The Man In The White Suit (which I found very disappointing).
  • Very possibly the best thing to come out of the Ealing Studios. This sardonic gem ranks up with Casino Royale as one of the Perfect Storms of British comedy, and fifty years after it was released, it inspired a much less funny big-budget Hollywood remake (in which Tom Hanks showed us he's no Sir Alec Guinness).

    I bring up the contrast between Tom Hanks and Alec Guinness because it's central to why the Ealing Studios, modest-budget British original production is so much better than its 21st century remake. Alec Guinness plays a low-key, understated fake British professor and amateur criminal kingpin and still manages to be funnier than Tom Hanks' over-the-top, wildly over-acted caricature of a caricature of a "professor" from the Southern US.

    Guinness's deft comedic touch demonstrates his versatility as an actor - very careful asides by modern cinematic standards (British or American) distinguish his performance and contribute to the classic character of the original version of Ladykillers. Guinness's use of subtle incongruities in his character's persona do the comedic work, in contrast to the other characters' enjoyably absurd dialogue and the slapstick which winds through the plot.

    Herbert Lom and the other actors portraying the "musicians" of the gang all pull their oars, delivering professional and hilarious performances (and again, much less over-the-top than the modern, American interpretation of the film).

    Without spoiling the movie for anyone, I can say that the comedic timing and (for the time and technology) good production values are spot on, and this film's reputation as a classic of dark comedy is wholly deserved. This is one of the movies people should study before setting out to film comedy.
  • onepotato24 February 2008
    Warning: Spoilers
    London - A gang of thieves rents a room in a pivotal location from a dotty old hen whose lonely, social instincts are a source of constant irritation to everyone. Director Alexander MacKendrick's strength is to supply a very clear sense of space to the movie, which continually pays out dividends. The location filming here is both picturesque, and supportive; as in the God's-eye view that begins the movie. The shot joins the locations the characters will need for the entire plot - a train terminal, a dead end street, a granny cottage, an untrafficked no-man's land behind some residences, and a bunch of traintracks. It gives viewers a very precise spatial logic which will be exploited for the rest of the movie. It's also decorated with opportune, real-life architectural/urban events; an imposing late Victorian water tower watches over the heist, the loopy disorder of Kings Cross provides an engaging maze for the shenanigans. The heist itself is physicalized and depends on the elbow turns of Kings Cross. MacKendrick is either a genius of storyboarding, or extremely original on a set, incorporating little details when he sees the chance. I can't imagine this film being half as good without this sense of location.

    Just where you might expect the movie to run out of energy, or hit the wall, the climax arrives and it's even better than everything before it. The sequence, with characters running around yards and a hillock dispatching bodies and trying to kill each other, makes the movie almost like a Euro-noir. The wheel-barrel commute of the first body to the trainyard is an awesome composition. The shot of a doomed hood falling to his death on a ladder (into a cloud of steam) but determined to get off one last shot, will stay with me for a long time. The compositions aren't simply beautiful, but smart & striking; which is pretty rare for a comedy.

    After a recent viewing of The Lavender Hill Mob, I popped this in dutifully, expecting that it had aged badly also. I definitely preferred this. It has much more humor; some is good (ripping the headlights off a car), some is weak (the phone booth gag). But at least it's trying, and you can recognize it's a comedy. I think Lavender Hill Mob got one laugh out of me. Ladykillers breaks up nicely into about 5 major movements. If you don't care for any particular space/segment, you only have to wait - at most - twenty minutes for the next one to begin. Thus, the heist which is clever enough, is over mercifully fast before it can hog the film (I hate elaborate heist flicks). In this case some plot-points are missed, but I didn't care. I've never been sold on a heist because of its persuasive setup. MacKendrick is terrific at inserting subtly-observed silliness which had me laughing out loud; the final, half-hearted cosh on Lawson's head with a blackjack, or the nuisance of a too-long scarf. The only strike against the film is that the color process looks like a hangover feels. And an insert shot of a cop on a rear-projected street at night may be the ugliest visual I've ever seen. The setup is similar to Arsenic and Old Lace except that it's actually funny. Alec Guiness's voice here sounds remarkably like the Grinch (Boris Karloff).

    You can anticipate the London the Beatles will be tearing up in '64 in A Hard Days Night. After having little interest in England my whole life, the specificity of this geography made me want to go explore. This is the best thing I've seen in months. Fabulous movie. So clever it reminds me of Blood Simple, or, given that the Coens made a terrible remake of The Ladykillers, they borrowed from this to make the somewhat similar Blood Simple.
  • Every New Years Eve, I promise myself that I will watch more older movies over the course of the forthcoming 12 months. And, like most New Year's Resolutions, it's forgotten about after a mere three weeks. But it turns out Fate doesn't quit so easily - I kept missing this when it kept popping up on Freeview a few weeks back and lo and behold, my Better Half tracks down the DVD and surprises me with it. So it was that I found myself enjoying this veritable comedy classic from the greatly missing Ealing Studios which, despite a fairly recent Hollywood makeover, still holds its own against its contemporaries thanks to tight scripting, brilliant performances and a wickedly simple story that can't help but entertain.

    Just around the corner from Kings Cross station in London lives aging spinster Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) who is in sore need of company and advertises the rooms in her secluded house to let. Which is ideal for master criminal Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness) who is planning a heist and needs somewhere for his cohorts to hide after the job. Duping Mrs Wilberforce into thinking they are practising musicians, it seems like the perfect plan... but plans always have a flaw and sometimes, they can be fatal.

    The original version of "The Ladykillers" is a superb example of how to make a comic thriller that doesn't rely on anything other than the script and the actors. Guinness, as far removed from Obi Wan as you can imagine, excels as the charismatic charmer but each member of the cast holds their own including a young Peter Sellers and his "Pink Panther" co-star Herbert Lom. Johnson, however, is the true star - being both vulnerable and innocent yet steely and determined when need be. Credit must also go to screenwriter William Rose for an absolute peach of a story - it does feel a little theatrical at times but it has a charm and heart behind it, mocking the criminal's dim choice of plan as well as the system, manifesting as disbelieving police officer Jack Warner of "Dixon Of Dock Green" fame. At a little over 90 minutes duration, modern film fans may feel a little short-changed but any extra material that could have been squeezed out of the material would have felt like filler - a point proved by the Coens in 2004 when their version didn't exactly set the world alight.

    Of course the technical aspects of the film haven't survived too well - obvious blue-screening (not green) and lousy stunt mannequins are to be expected but they do detract slightly from what is otherwise an excellent picture. I defy anyone who can find it not to laugh at a film which is both funny and tense at the same time. It might be old-fashioned but this murderously macabre masterpiece is a true landmark picture in British cinema and remains one of the all-time greats. Even more surprising is how it manages to be better than a fistful of recent films I could mention, despite being nearly sixty years old. Imagine Jesse Owens beating Usain Bolt in the 100m final - true class never fades.
  • jonasskjoett3 October 2010
    In a swift and somehow creepy way, a man casually sneaks after an sweet innocent old lady, (Mrs. Wilberforce). The old lady have just been in the local town, just doing her normal routine and right now she is heading home, she opens the door to her house and goes in, not knowing that she's been followed, and that the mysterious man himself is standing right outside on the doorsteps to her lopsided house. The doorbell is heard and the old lady curiously opens the door to be met by a joker-ish face, (Professor Marcus). His intentions seems innocent and he just want to rent a room, where he can practice with his amateurish orchestra band, which consists of Major Courtney, Mr. Harvey, Mr. Robinson and One-Round, but Marcus and his companions real intentions is to make a genius robbery, and use Mrs. W's old house as an disguise, because the police will never suspect them to be hiding in there, and best of all, Mrs. W will never notice a thing... or will she?

    This is... as said many times before, an outstanding performance of both acting and writing, a culmination of wonderful British actors and a touch of Ealing Studios, with other words, this movie kills me every time. The characters alone could make this movie work, because it offers maybe the best set of thieves filmed in movie history, and maybe also the funniest. As said, in this movie we get a good set of classic characters, we have the coward, the temperamental, the unlucky, the dumb and finally the clever one, and then we get the most sweet little old lady set on this earth, what a good job you did there Katie Johnson.

    This movie was also the first quality picture Peter Sellers was in, but not the movie where he gets the big leading role. His role as "Mr. Robinson" is by the way, just unbelievable good and so entertaining, even if the role is little he always manage to plant his acting mark. It's like this movie is remembered most by Sellers performance, and not all the other good stuff we get, and here I especially think about Katie Johnson's and Alec Guinness's characters, but thats just the way Sellers acting works - he always outshines the others.

    Watch this wonderfully dark comedy immediately, you wont regret it.
  • The innocent little old lady ("I'm so sorry to be a bother, gentlemen") played by KATIE JOHNSON (who died after doing one more film), is the real factor that gives the story a heart. After all, it's the brisk tale of a gang of criminals with a clever heist plan that goes awry thanks to the meddling of Miss Johnson. Without her highly amusing central role as the woman who unwittingly gives the gang shelter, it would be no more than a broad comedy.

    That's not to say that ALEC GUINNESS, HERBERT LOM, PETER SELLERS and CECIL PARKER aren't superb as the gang members, but Johnson is the story's most necessary ingredient. Her dotty ways are endearing long before the plotters show up at her residence, pretending to be musicians.

    The misadventures that occur the moment they show up at her doorstep keep the story flowing along at a rapid pace--beginning with the escape of one of her parrots that leads to some inventive gags. But that's only the beginning. All the other mishaps lead to a rather surprising ending.

    Definitely a comedy to check out if you want a real good time! Expert script, costumes, performances and some catchy background music, all done with style and wit in the best British manner.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Mrs Wilberforce is an elderly woman who lives just outside Kings Cross Railway Station in London. She rents two rooms to the mysterious Professor Marcus, who would like to rehearse with his amateur string quintet. Little does she know that the men are a gang of desperate criminals planning a train robbery in which she will play a key part …

    This is perhaps the last great picture by the charming Ealing Studios (my favourite of which is Kind Hearts And Coronets) made during producer Michael Balcon's classic tenure, and it typifies their delightful black comedy style, fabulous writing and top-notch performances. As with all comedy, it's this latter quality which is particularly impressive, especially in the form of Johnson, who gives perhaps the best deadpan performance in cinema history (rivalled only by Margaret Dumont). At the age of eighty, with no major camera experience, she manages to convince us that she (the actress) is not quite savvy to what's happening, plays a straight foil to the men (three of whom were acting geniuses), delivers the richest performance in the film and sells the entire story. Guinness gives one of his funniest deliveries - his crooked teeth alone are hilarious - and it's fun to watch Sellers and Lom (in pre-Pink Panther days) giving equally brilliant but totally contrasting performances (Sellers milks every comic moment, Lom plays it completely straight and both are terrific). Brilliantly written by William Rose (an American, who also wrote The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming) and full of delicious scenes (Marcus' sinister appearance, the numerous forgotten brolly gags, the recurring use of Luigi Boccherini's String Quintet in E Major, General Gordon's medicine, the old ladies' tea-party, drawing the short straw, the final gag with the train signal). Gifted director Mackendrick (why didn't he make more movies ?) deftly handles the engaging plot, the comic nuances of the characters and the excellent visual style. It's a Hitchcock thriller turned upside down and a drawing room farce given a deliciously sinister edge. Ill-advisedly remade by the Coen Brothers in 2004 - see that one just to witness how much better the original version is.
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