Twitter Plot Summary: The plans of a gang of criminals look likely to be upset by their doddering old landlady.
Five Point Summary:
1. This isn’t the Jedi you’re looking for.
2. Most complicated method of acquiring money ever.
3. Oh dear. Unravelling.
4. One by one…
5. Hah, signal change.
Ealing comedies have a certain reputation. You know, for being funny and all that. Sure, the studio released other material over the years, but it’s always the comedies that people go back to time and time again. The Ladykillers was made towards the end of their cycle, but remains perhaps one of their best known productions.
It is established within a few moments that Mrs Wilberforce is, no pun intended, a force to be reckoned with. Living in a crooked house soon to be filled with crooked men, she doesn’t mince her words and is incredibly forthright. Mrs Wilberforce has a very specific world view and a special relationship with the local police force, for want of a better term. She also has a room available for rent, which is incredibly handy as a crook by the name of Professor Marcus, along with his crew of bank robbing thieves, need a base of operations for their next job.
I really enjoyed the introduction of Alec Guinness as gang leader Professor Marcus, a far cry from his usually staid and well presented self, grotesque Igor-like features minus the hunchback. Very quickly thereafter we’re introduced to the remainder of the gang, including a pre-Pink Panther pairing of Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. Lom is severe in both dress and personality – he’s not far off being a caricature of a Gestapo officer. Sellers meanwhile is surprisingly restrained, showing early signs of the comedy legend that he would soon become in the world of cinema – he had of course already spent a few years at this point as part of the seminal Goon Show.
The gang fill up the back room of the house, making it seem (and sound) like they are a quintet of musicians who intend on using the room for practice. Professor Marcus is ever the smooth talker, conniving and planning constantly, but even he finds himself at odds with the unintentional power that Mrs Wilberforce holds. There is much fun to be had in watching him amend his plans on the fly, trying to keep up with the various changes that unexpectedly occur to his plan and resolutely failing in this task.
Despite the film’s age, as indicated by the occasional painted backdrop and distinct low budget feel to the majority of the story, it maintains its timeless quality by being incredibly funny throughout. The entire setup is classic farce as the criminals find themselves being inadvertently bumped off one by one as they argue over whether or not to kill Mrs Wilberforce. Before that they must go about retrieving the money they have stolen and, amusingly, rescue Mrs Wilberforce’s pet bird.
As the story progresses the broad stroke characters of each crook are gradually brought up to boiling point, specifically in the shape of Herbert Lom’s Louis, At the other end of the spectrum is Major Courtney, aka Claude (Cecil Parker) who doesn’t wish to see Mrs Wilberforce harmed. It’s one calamity after another in the classic tradition, and despite appearances the film does have a happy resolution – it just doesn’t involve any of the crooks.