The Ladykillers (1955)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Alec Guinness and Katie Johnson in The Ladykillers (1955)

Little Old Lady Downs Guinness

From the oblivious innocence of Katie Johnson as Mrs. Wilberforce through to the scheming skulduggery of Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus and the ready to go villainy of Herbert Lom as Louis "The Ladykillers" is a great British comedy, a first rate farce from Ealing Studios. And as you would expect from a farce the story is simple, it is a little bit stupid but also great fun as we watch a bunch of criminals basically outwitted by a little old lady without her even knowing that she is outwitting them. Plus if that isn't enough "The Ladykillers" also features one of the best, most surprising and laughable twists which seals "The Ladykillers" place as a must watch movie.

Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness - Malta Story) has a cunning plan to rob a security vehicle of cases full of money and with his 4 criminal buddies it is a fool proof plan especially as he has duped his landlady Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) to help transport the stolen money without her knowing what she is doing. But whilst the robbery goes relatively smoothly things start to go wrong when Mrs. Wilberforce discovers that Marcus and his friends are in fact criminals and in order to get away they must silence her. The trouble is that no one can bring themselves to hurt the kindly little old lady who is oblivious to their plans even the villainous Louis (Herbert Lom).

Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers in The Ladykillers (1955)

The storyline to "The Ladykillers" is simple but also brilliant as it revolves around a group of criminals lead by the quietly maniacal Professor Marcus who plan to rob a security van and use Mrs. Wilberforce to help transport the stolen money back to her little old home where Marcus rents a room. The fact she is oblivious to their scheming makes for some wonderful scenes as they pretend to be amateur musicians who practice in an upstairs room but keep on being interrupted by her continual good nature and offers of cups of tea. But whilst this first half is amusing it is the second half of "The Ladykillers" where it gets brilliant as she discovers that her guests have staged a robbery and in her innocent ways becomes a nuisance. What follows is just brilliant comedy as the criminals know they have to silence her but no one can bring themselves to hurt this little old lady much to their own detriment.

What makes "The Ladykillers" work is that it is darkly funny, darker than what you would normally expect from an Ealing Studio comedy as the humour revolves around the mishaps in trying to bump of this little old lady. But it is the fact that the actual criminals end up coming a cropper with Mrs. Wilberforce oblivious that her upright ways and general loveliness is causing so many problems. And what makes it funnier is the way the criminals end up having to dispose of their friends, over the top of a bridge onto a passing steam train, a reoccurring scene which gets funnier each time. Plus to add to this there is the twist an absolute brilliant twist which you don't see coming and makes you laugh the minute it happens. As such this simple storyline turns into a fantastic farce as mishap after mishap happens without ever becoming completely stupid and retaining a dark sense of humour throughout.

Making all of this work are some great performances from the likes of Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green and Cecil Parker but it is the performances of Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus and Katie Johnson as Mrs. Wilberforce which makes it so special. Guinness is just so amusing from the first time we meet him, a split personality of a character as he comes across as quiet and amiable, yet the whole time he is also devious, constantly scheming with an almost maniacal element. It makes him a contradiction, quiet but maniacal, but it also makes him amusing and wonderful to watch.

And then there is Katie Johnson who is absolutely brilliant as little old lady Mrs. Wilberforce. She goes about her business, being kind and homely with this moral code she follows completely oblivious to the scheming going on under her roof. But it is when she finds out the truth that Johnson is so good, still playing it straight but delivering this maternal disappointment on the criminals that she welcomed, it's just marvellous.

What this all boils down to is that "The Ladykillers" is a brilliant movie, a great British comedy and a fantastic farce. It's so simple but also so amusing with plenty of dark humour and a great laugh out loud twist which stays with you long after the intricacies of the movie have faded. But it is also the performances not only those of Alec Guinness and Katie Johnson but all the cast such as Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom which makes it so good, so much fun and a must watch movie.


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