Saturday, March 20, 2010

'The Ladykillers' will slay you

The Ladykillers (1955)

Starring: Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom, Danny Green, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, and Jack Warner
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The criminal mastermind nicknamed "the Professor" (Guinness) concocts the perfect robbery and perfect get-away plan. He had every angle covered... except for the X-factor of Mrs. Wilberforce (Johnson), a sweet little old lady whom he had cast as an unknowing accomplice, but whose sense of right and wrong and force of will proves to be more than a match for the Professor and his gang of cutthroats.

"The Ladykillers" is a comedy that's very simple in concept--five robbers struggle to avoid discovery and capture when their unwitting dupe becomes wise to their true activities--but its execution is so deft and so clever, and its cast so skilled at their craft that the film ends up as one of the funniest and most unpredictable crime comedies ever filmed.

Some of the humor arises from the fact that a gang of hardbitten criminals get squemish when it comes to harming a little old lady and that she is able to shame them into cooperating with her. However, much more comes from a constant stream of multi-layered sight gags and repeated reversals of audience expectations.

It's no surprise that the Professor and his gang ultimately fail in their dastardly schemes, but even this expected finale ends up being presented with a couple unexpected twists.

With a brilliant script, some very nice photography that takes full advantage of the setting around and atop King's Cross Station, and top-notch performances from a cast of truly great actors--with the interplay Alec Guinnes and Katie Johnson, and Guiness and Herbert Lom being particularly effective and funny--"The Ladykillers" stands as one of the greatest British comedies ever put on film.

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