The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Stanley Holloway and Alec Guinness in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

The Lads in Lavender

There is a reason why the Ealing Studios movies are held in such high esteem, they are damn good even now over half a century after many of them were created. And "The Lavender Hill Mob" is a prime example of why they were and still are so good, a quintessentially British affair, chock full of dry wit and great characters which gets funnier and funnier the longer it goes on. But it is also a movie lush in style with director Charles Crichton framing some wonderful shots and delivering a dizzying Eiffel Tower scene which borders on the crazy. Plus of course there is Alec Guinness the mild mannered bank clerk by day, master criminal by night who makes us laugh be it being the nice guy or the criminal.

For 20 years Henry Holland (Alec Guinness - Kind Hearts and Coronets) has diligently gone about his job at the bank, carefully monitoring the transport of gold bullion to the point that he is almost invisible. But for those 20 years Henry has been crafting an ingenious plan to rob the bank of its gold and now having met Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway - Passport to Pimlico) a manufacturer of tourist statuettes the last piece of the plan is in place. With the aid of two criminals they plan to steal the gold, melt it down and turn it into mini statues of the Eiffel Tower, then ship it to France un-noticed. But of course even the best laid plans can go wrong!

Audrey Hepburn and Alec Guinness in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

"The Lavender Hill Mob" with its heist based crime caper is very traditional in delivery as in the fact it has 3 parts. The first part is the plan as we learn all about Henry Holland, who for 20 years has been planning a gold heist whilst keeping up the masquerade of being Mr. Reliable as he works for the bank. The fact that Holland seems such a mild mannered, almost dull sort of guy who you could set your watch by makes it all the more ingenious and amusing. And that is before he even meets Alfred Pendlebury, the last piece of the jigsaw, who can melt the stolen gold down and turn it into tourist statues for getting past customs. It's a fun, intelligent set up which also includes putting the team together, another highly imaginative comical set up as well as things not running smoothly as Holland gets a promotion.

What is particularly clever is that "The Lavender Hill Mob" actually starts with Holland in South America, splashing the cash as he tells a person in the bar his story, how comes he is so rich. Yet before the planning stage of the heist is completed you've forgotten all about it. It's not until things get so crazy later on that you begin to wonder how the story is ever going to get to Holland being in South America and the explanation is just as good, both clever and wickedly comical.

Of course after the planning stage you have the robbery which is jam packed full of mishaps and close shaves as well as the escape which is just as chaotic. And as you expect basically nothing goes exactly to plan as the best laid plans get thrown out of the window as statues go missing and Holland and Pendlebury end up trying to give the police the slip having ended up at a police exhibition. In lesser hands this comedy crime caper could have spiralled completely out of control yet whilst wildly contrived it never loses that element of ingenuity and comedy. It is that blend of being clever and funny which is a huge reason why "The Lavender Hill Mob" is still so watch able.

The other big reason as to why "The Lavender Hill Mob" is still so good is down to Alec Guinness who is brilliant from beginning to end. There is just something simply comical about him being mild mannered, respectable and reliable yet as you see his nefarious plan take over his thoughts he takes on a completely different persona, still comical but a criminal genius. And Guinness keeps this split personality up from beginning to end sliding between each persona in a blink of an eye. So good is Guinness that whilst the likes of Stanley Holloway, Sid James and Alfie Bass don't do a single thing wrong they are outshone in every single scene. Plus for those who are fans will know that there is a short appearance from a young Audrey Hepburn to enjoy as well.

What this all boils down to is that "The Lavender Hill Mob" maybe over 60 years old but it is still as good as it has ever been. From the comedy of the crime caper, the dry wit and Charles Crichton's direction everything about it works. But most importantly at the centre of this you have Alec Guinness who shows what a brilliant comic actor he was.