The Ladykillers (1955 film)

Last updated

The Ladykillers
The Ladykillers poster.jpg
Original film poster by Reginald Mount [1]
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Written by William Rose
Produced by Michael Balcon
Starring
Cinematography Otto Heller
Edited by Jack Harris
Music by Tristram Cary
Production
company
Distributed by The Rank Organisation
Release date
  • 8 December 1955 (1955-12-08)(UK)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

The Ladykillers is a 1955 British black comedy crime film directed by Alexander Mackendrick for Ealing Studios. It stars Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner, and Katie Johnson as the old lady, Mrs. Wilberforce. [2]

Contents

William Rose wrote the screenplay, [2] for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. He claimed to have dreamt the entire film and merely had to remember the details when he awoke.

Plot

Mrs Wilberforce is a sweet and eccentric old widow who lives alone with her raucous parrots in a gradually subsiding lopsided house, built over the entrance to a railway tunnel in Kings Cross, London. With nothing to occupy her time and an active imagination, she is a frequent visitor to the local police station where she reports fanciful suspicions regarding neighbourhood activities. Having led wild-goose chases in the past, she is humoured by the officers there who give her reports no credence whatsoever.

She is approached by an archly sinister character, "Professor" Marcus, who wants to rent rooms in her house. She is not aware that he has assembled a gang of hardened criminals for a sophisticated security van robbery at London King's Cross railway station: the gentlemanly and easily fooled con-man Major Claude Courtney; the comedic Cockney spiv Harry Robinson; the slow-witted and punch drunk ex-boxer 'One-Round' Lawson; and the murderous, cruel and vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey. As a cover, the "Professor" convinces the naive Mrs. Wilberforce that the group is an amateur string quintet using the rooms for rehearsal space. To maintain the deception, the gang members carry musical instruments and play recordings of Boccherini's Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 No. 5 and Haydn's Serenade for Strings Op. 3 No. 5 (the "Serenade" was actually composed by Roman Hoffstetter) during their planning sessions.

After the heist, "Mrs. W" is deceived into retrieving the disguised money from the railway station herself. This she successfully manages to do, but not without serious complications owing to her tendency to righteous meddling. As the gang departs her house with the loot, 'One-Round' accidentally gets his cello case full of banknotes trapped in the front door. As he pulls the case free, banknotes spill forth while Mrs. Wilberforce looks on. Finally, smelling a rat, she informs Marcus that she is going to the police.

Stalling, the gangsters half convince Mrs. W that she will surely be considered an accomplice for holding the cash. In any case, they assert, it is a victimless crime as insurance will cover all the losses and the police will probably not even accept the money back. She wavers, but when she rallies, the criminals finally decide they must kill her. No one wants to do it, so they draw lots using matchsticks. The Major loses but tries to make a run for it with the cash. As the oblivious Mrs. W dozes, the criminals cross, double-cross and manage to kill one another in rapid succession. The Major falls off the roof of the house after being chased by Louis; Harry is killed by One-Round who, after having had a change of heart about the killing of Mrs. W, wrongly thinks that Harry has killed her; One-Round tries to shoot Louis and Marcus when he overhears a plan to double-cross him, but leaves the gun's safety catch on and is himself killed by Louis; Marcus kills Louis by dislodging his ladder under the tunnel behind the house, causing Louis to fall into a passing railway wagon. Before falling into the carriage, Louis fires a last shot at Marcus which nearly hits him. Finally, with no one else left, Marcus himself is struck on the head by a changing railway signal, and his body drops into another wagon. All the other bodies have been dumped into railway wagons passing behind the house and are now far away.

Mrs. Wilberforce is now left alone with the plunder. She goes to the police to return it, but they do not believe her story. They humour her, telling her to keep the money. She is puzzled but finally relents and returns home. Along the way, she leaves a banknote of large denomination with a startled starving artist.

Cast

Katie Johnson with (l to r) Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Alec Guinness and Danny Green Katie johnson ladykillers.jpg
Katie Johnson with (l to r) Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Alec Guinness and Danny Green

Kenneth Connor appears in an uncredited role as the taxi driver. Alec Guinness seems to have based his performance of Professor Marcus on the actor Alastair Sim, for whom the part was originally intended. Robinson was the first major film role for Peter Sellers; he would later appear with Lom in five of The Pink Panther films. Sellers and Guinness would appear together again in Murder By Death (1976). [3]

Awards and nominations

AwardCategoryNominee(s)Result
Academy Awards Best Screenplay – Original William Rose Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source The LadykillersNominated
Best British Film Nominated
Best British Actress Katie Johnson Won
Best British Screenplay William RoseWon

Reception

Box office

According to the National Film Finance Corporation, the film made a comfortable profit. [4]

Critical response

The film received critical acclaim from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rare approval rating of 100% based on 31 reviews, with an average score of 8.7/10. The website's consensus reads, "The Ladykillers is a macabre slow-burn with quirky performances of even quirkier characters." [5] On Metacritic, the film received a score of 91 based on 7 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". [6]

The British Film Institute ranked The Ladykillers the 13th greatest British film of all time. In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw it ranked the 29th best British film ever. [7]

Reputation

In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted The Ladykillers the 36th greatest comedy film of all time, and The Guardian labelled it the 5th greatest comedy of all time in 2010.

Adaptations

The Ladykillers playing at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End, December 2011 The Ladykillers at the Gielgud (6481418261).jpg
The Ladykillers playing at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End, December 2011

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peter Sellers</span> English actor and comedian (1925–1980)

Peter Sellers was an English actor and comedian. He first came to prominence performing in the BBC Radio comedy series The Goon Show, featured on a number of hit comic songs and became known to a worldwide audience through his many film roles, among them Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mai Zetterling</span> Swedish actress (1925–1994)

Mai Elisabeth Zetterling was a Swedish actress, novelist and film director.

<i>Brief Encounter</i> 1945 British film directed by David Lean

Brief Encounter is a 1945 British romantic drama film directed by David Lean from a screenplay by Noël Coward, based on his 1936 one-act play Still Life.

<i>Kind Hearts and Coronets</i> 1949 British crime black comedy film directed by Robert Hamer

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a 1949 British crime black comedy film. It features Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, Valerie Hobson and Alec Guinness; Guinness plays nine characters. The plot is loosely based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (1907) by Roy Horniman. It concerns Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, the son of a woman disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying out of her social class. After her death, Louis decides to take revenge on the family and take the dukedom by murdering the eight people ahead of him in the line of succession to the title.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Herbert Lom</span> British actor

Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru, known professionally as Herbert Lom, was a Czech-British actor who moved to the United Kingdom in 1939. In a career lasting more than 60 years, he generally appeared in character roles, often portraying criminals or suave villains in his younger years, and professional men as he aged. Highly versatile, he proved a skilled comic actor in The Pink Panther franchise, as inspector Dreyfus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ealing comedies</span> Ealing Studios films, 1947 to 1957

The Ealing comedies is an informal name for a series of comedy films produced by the London-based Ealing Studios during a ten-year period from 1947 to 1957. Often considered to reflect Britain's post-war spirit, the most celebrated films in the sequence include Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Whisky Galore! (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955). Hue and Cry (1947) is generally considered to be the earliest of the cycle, and Barnacle Bill (1957) the last, although some sources list Davy (1958) as the final Ealing comedy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Martita Hunt</span> British actress (1900–1969)

Martita Edith Hunt was an Argentine-born British theatre and film actress. She had a dominant stage presence and played a wide range of powerful characters. She is best remembered for her performance as Miss Havisham in David Lean's Great Expectations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kenneth Connor</span> English actor

Kenneth Connor, was a British stage, film and broadcasting actor, who rose to national prominence with his appearances in the Carry On films.

<i>The Captains Paradise</i> 1953 film by Anthony Kimmins

The Captain's Paradise is a 1953 British comedy film produced and directed by Anthony Kimmins, and starring Alec Guinness, Yvonne De Carlo and Celia Johnson. Guinness plays the captain of a passenger ship that travels regularly between Gibraltar and Spanish Morocco. De Carlo plays his Moroccan wife and Johnson plays his British wife. The film begins at just before the end of the story, which is then told in a series of flashbacks.

<i>Lovesick</i> (1983 film) American film written and directed by Marshall Brickman

Lovesick is a 1983 American romantic comedy film written and directed by Marshall Brickman. It stars Dudley Moore and Elizabeth McGovern and features Alec Guinness as the ghost of Sigmund Freud.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dulcie Gray</span> British actress, singer, writer

Dulcie Winifred Catherine Denison,, known professionally as Dulcie Gray, was a British singer and actress of stage, screen and television, a mystery writer and lepidopterist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Katie Johnson (English actress)</span> English actress (1878–1957)

Bessie Kate Johnson was an English actress who appeared on stage from 1894 and on screen from the 1930s to the 1950s.

<i>The Ladykillers</i> (2004 film) 2004 film by Joel and Ethan Coen

The Ladykillers is a 2004 American black comedy crime thriller film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coens' screenplay was based on the 1955 British Ealing comedy film of the same name, which was written by William Rose. The Coens produced the remake, together with Tom Jacobson, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Barry Josephson. It stars Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J. K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst, and marks the first time that the Coens have worked with Tom Hanks and the first remake by the Coens. This was the first film in which Joel and Ethan Coen share both producing and directing credits; previously Joel had always been credited as director and Ethan as producer.

The 9th British Film Awards, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 1956, honoured the best films of 1955.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alec Guinness</span> British actor (1914–2000)

Sir Alec Guinness was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played nine different characters, The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination, and The Ladykillers (1955). He collaborated six times with director David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won both the Academy Award for Best Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), General Yevgraf Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Professor Godbole in A Passage to India (1984). In 1970 he played Jacob Marley's ghost in Ronald Neame's Scrooge. He also portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy; for the original 1977 film, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 50th Academy Awards.

Marlene Sidaway is a British television, film and theatre actress best known for playing Brenda Taylor in the long-running soap opera Coronation Street.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ruth Dunning</span> Welsh actress (1909–1983)

Ruth Dunning, born Mary Ruth Dunning, was a Welsh actress of stage, television, and film. Although her year of birth was long given as 1911, her birth was registered in Holywell in 1909.

The Ladykillers is a 2011 stage adaptation written by Graham Linehan based on the 1955 Ealing comedy film of the same name. The play premièred at the Liverpool Playhouse in November 2011, directed by Sean Foley. It then transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in London, opening on 7 December 2011, and closed after a successful and extended run on 14 April 2012. The production, with a different cast, then embarked on a UK national tour from September to December 2012. The play returned to Ealing in March 2017, when it was performed at The Questors Theatre, located less than 500 metres from Ealing Studios, where the original 1955 film was shot. The play had its North American premiere at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada in June 2019 with Damien Atkins as Professor Marcus and Chick Reid as Mrs. Wilberforce.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Warner (actor)</span>

John Hickson Warner was a British film, television and stage actor whose career spanned more than five decades. His most famous role was that of Timothy Dawes in Salad Days, which premiered in the UK at the Theatre Royal in 1954, and transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre in London in the same year.

William Troughton is a British actor.

References

  1. "Reginald Mount". The Art of War. The National Archives . Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  2. 1 2 "The Ladykillers 1955". Turner Classic Movies . Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  3. "screenonline.org.uk, part of the British Film Institute (BFI)". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  4. U.S. MONEY BEHIND 30% OF BRITISH FILMS: Problems for the Board of Trade: The Manchester Guardian, 4 May 1956. p. 7.
  5. "The Ladykillers (1955)". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 26 July 2022.
  6. "The Ladykillers (1955)". Metacritic . Retrieved 26 July 2022.
  7. "The 100 best British films". Time Out. Retrieved 24 October 2017
  8. James Helme Sutcliffe. Czechoslovakia : 'The Ladykillers'. Opera , January 1974, Vol. 25 No. 1, p.40 & 57.
  9. "BBC radio programmes catalogue entry". BBC. 26 November 2012. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  10. "The Ladykillers 2004". Turner Classic Movies . Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  11. Graham Linehan. "How Graham Linehan dynamited The Ladykillers". Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  12. "Play details on Gielgud Theatre site". London-theatreland.co.uk. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  13. "Vaudeville Theatre". Vaudeville Theatre. 9 October 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  14. "» Latest News". Theladykillers.co.uk. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  15. "The Ladykillers Review - Best of Theatre News". Bestoftheatre.co.uk. 15 July 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  16. "The Ladykillers - Shaw Festival Theatre". Archived from the original on 7 May 2019.