|'Whilst it has all of the hallmarks of Ealing during the period (whimsy mixed with a bit of darkness), it never reaches the high watermarks of absurdity, comedy and plotting seen in something like Kind Hearts And Coronets.'|
What The Ladykillers does share with that film is a terrific performance (or performances, in the case of Kind Hearts And Coronets) by Alec Guinness. His introduction as Professor Marcus, stalking around the outside of the house of Mrs Wilberforce like a latter day Freddie Krueger, is a perfect set up, drawing on Horror conventions to tell you that something is amiss here, without relying on exposition. Our fears are confirmed when Mrs Wilberforce opens the door and there stands Guinness, grinning gruesomely in what looks like false teeth and thinning hair. It's a role equal parts physical and delivery which, when you look at Guinness through the ages, is something that he has always managed, even if he does not get enough credit for the former part of the equation.
Outside of Guinness though, the rest of the film feels almost distracted at times. Frankie Howerd shows up in a sort of skit with his fruit trolley and a horse that won't stop eating it. What it's doing in the film is anyone's guess. The heist sequence, which sees the group sending Mrs Wilberforce in to the station to collect their illegal luggage, is largely underwhelming, despite attempts to make it more tense than it is in the faces and reactions of the group of hoodlums. That group includes a quite young looking Herbert Lom and an even younger looking Peter Sellers, but aside from the recognisable faces there's nothing really memorable about the character archetypes they play.
Director Alexander Mackendrick does wrestle things back at the finale, with a typically Ealing level of chaos that is well directed enough to never come across as twee manipulation to tie off loose ends. It shows what the rest of the film could have been, each of the five hoodlums getting the opportunity to pratfall beautifully, where the rest of the film seems to have been disinterested in allowing them the same.
The Ladykillers is released on new UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 26th October.