The other day Susan and I watched the classic film The Ladykillers (1955) on DVD. The Ladykillers falls into the bank-heist-cum-fiasco comedy genre. The film stars a gaunt, sickly-looking Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus the leader of a gang of thugs with a brilliant plan to rob a bank van at London’s King’s Cross railway station. Marcus’ gang includes Peter Sellers in one of his earliest starring roles as the Liverpudlian Mr. Robinson as well as Herbert Lom (who would go on to play Dreyfuss opposite Sellers’ Clouseau in the Pink Panther films) as Mr. Harvey.
Beware of spoilers!
Marcus hires a room in a house nearby King’s Cross where he and his gang pretend to be a group of musicians rehearsing Boccherini’s Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op.11 No.5. but in fact are plotting their heist. Their landlady is the prim yet chatty elderly woman Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). The robbery goes off as planned but before the gang can make a clean getaway Mrs. Wilberforce discovers what they have done. The rest of the film involves the gang plotting to kill the seemingly harmless Mrs. Wilberforce but find themselves unable to do so due to pangs of conscience or comic ineptitude. In the end the gang members double-cross each other and eventually kill one another off. Only Mrs. Wilberforce survives and she gets to keep the money as the police do not believe her wild tale.
End of spoilers.
While not a laugh riot, The Ladykillers is a good mix of a subtle comedy of manners with slapstick humor. In my visits to London I’ve spent a lot of time around King’s Cross so I was pleased to be able to recognize a lot of the settings as they looked fifty years earlier.