In the 1940s and 50s, London`s own Ealing Studios brought us a steady stream of classic comedies and dramas. From crime capers such as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob to the delightful light comedies of Passport to Pimlico and The Titfield Thunderbolt, the studios made their name in rib-tickling follies that to this very day never fail to raise a smile.
Of course, one of the most famous films to emerge from the studios is Alexander Mackendrick`s iconic 1955 screwball caper The Ladykillers. With a lackluster Tom Hanks remake, and a critically acclaimed stage version, The Ladykillers continues its timeless legacy to this day. It`s about time, therefore that StudioCanal have finally decided to release this classic in glorious Blu-ray.
Starring Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Katie Johnson, The Ladykillers tells the tale of a group of half-witted criminals who, posing as a string quartet to fool their doddering old landlady (Johnson), cook up a plan to rob a mail train. When the old lady discovers their plot, however, the crooks decide to do-in the interfering pensioner, accidentally killing each other one by one in the process.
William Rose`s script is both sharp and ingenious, enthralling the audience from start to ridiculous end, but what really makes The Ladykillers the classic that it is is its phenomenal cast. Alec Guinness (Kind Hearts and Coronets, Star Wars) is a scheming powerhouse as the groups conniving leader, his grandiose presence emanating something of a Hammer Horror villain, each line delivered with precision and power. Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther) as Harry, the young spiv, is a charming chappy who has obviously just fallen in with the wrong crowd, a stark contrast to Herbert Lom`s (The Phantom of the Opera, Mysterious Island) psychotic Louis, and Cecil Parker (Captain Boycott, The Weaker Sex) as the doddering old dab-hand Major Courtney. The real star, however, is Danny Green (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, A Kid for Two Farthings) as the dim-witted giant One Round. At first the group`s muscle, after accidently giving away the gang`s true identity, One Round grows fond of their host and refuses to let the others harm her. Green`s performance as the gentle giant is complex and heartwarming, and really adds soul to proceedings.
Sadly, the weak link in the cast is Johnson as the ill-fated Mrs. Wilberforce. For too fragile, Johnson never really seems the threat that she needs to be to the criminals. A little more fight would add a more believable tension as the boys fight it out behind her back.
That said, The Ladykillers remains a hilarious and highly enjoyable piece of British cinematic history, and the conversion to blu-ray brings this classic rib-tickler beautifully into the 21st century. Time for a revisit for fans, and one not to miss for the uninitiated.
4 / 5
Dir: Alexander Mackendrick
Scr: William Rose
Starring: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Katie Johnson
Prd: Michael Balcon
DOP: Otto Heller
Music: Tristram Cary
Run time: 91mins
The Ladykillers is out on DVD, Blu-ray and EST on October 26th.