ALEC GUINNESS
    The Ladykillers
    Classic Comedy. UK Official DVD (1955)

    Header Photo: Detail from cover of Dvd release.

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    THE LADYKILLERS ~ UK OFFICIAL DVD (2011)

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    CAST

    Alec Guinness is Professor Marcus
    Cecil Parker is Major Courtney
    Herbert Lom is Louis
    Peter Sellers is Harry
    Danny Green is One-Round
    Katie Johnson is Mrs Wilberforce
    Jack Warner is the Police superintendent
    Philip Stainton is the Police sergeant
    Frankie Howard is the Barrow Boy
    Kenneth Connor is the Cab Driver
    Edie Martin is the Lettice

    CREW

    Dir: Alexander Mackendrick
    Prod: Michael Balcon
    Scr: William Rose, from his story
    Ph: Otto Heller
    Ed: Jack Harris
    Mus: Tristram Cary
    Art Dir: Jim Marahan

    (Ealing)

    UK DVD SPECIFICATIONS

    Format: PAL, Colour, Anamorphic, Widescreen, Mono
    Language: English
    Region: Region 2 (UK & Europe)
    Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.66:1
    Number of Discs: 1
    Classification: U
    Studio: Warner
    DVD Release Date: 21 Jun. 2004
    Run Time: 89 minutes

    7321900381284

    DVD SPECIAL FEATURES

    Theatrical trailer

    MOVIE REVIEW

    Alec Guinness read the script and told Mackendrick, "But dear boy, it's Alastair Sim you want, isn't it?" They assured him it wasn't.

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    In the Spring Honours List of 1955 Alec Guinness was made a Commander of the British Empire. In the summer he descended into the lowest circle of criminality in the film The Ladykillers at Ealing with Alexander Mackendrick directing.

    This became Mackendrick's best film to date, and some say his best film ever, although he went on to Hollywood to make Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster as the venomous columnist JJ. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as the sleazy show-biz press agent Falco. The Ladykillers was Mackendrick's last film for Ealing and he directed it when Ealing had passed its prime, and was soon to be sold off to MGM, although still run by Balcon. His script-writer was William Rose, an American expatriate who told Mackendrick of a dream he had had one lunchtime when they were drinking in the Red Lion. Rose, from Missouri, had dreamt a whole film: "complete" and "original".

    It was, as he told Mackendrick, about five criminals "who lived in a house with a little old lady and she found them out. They decided they had to kill her, but they couldn't and so they all killed each other". When Rose outlined the idea to Michael Balcon, Rose recalled Balcon watching him with those strange hooded eyes all during the telling, "never taking his eyes off me just once in a while glanced at Sandy [Mackendrick] as if to say, 'Is it just he who has lost his mind, or have you both lost your minds?'"

    Rose's "dream", as developed, at least partly borrowed from The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, an earlier comedy-thriller play (in which Ralph Richardson had successfully starred in the West End for a record-breaking run), had the gangsters posing as a string quartet.

    In the US film of Clitterhouse they were led by Humphrey Bogart and called the Hudson River String Quartet the film also had a character called The Professor, played by Edward G. Robinson.

    Kemp, in his biography of Mackendrick, described how the crucial casting of The Ladykillers came about, the part of Professor Marcus being originally intended for Alastair Sim. But Balcon stepped in: "We're making money with the Guinness films, we're on a run of strength there. It's got to be Guinness."

    Guinness read the script and told Mackendrick, "But dear boy, it's Alastair Sim you want, isn't it?" They assured him it wasn't. With Guinness they also cast Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers (who played the Teddy Boy plus the voices of Mrs Wilberforce's parrots), and Danny Green, an ex-boxer. As the old lady, again with much opposition, Mackendrick cast the seventy-seven-year-old Katie Johnson, who had played countless tiny roles of old ladies but never a big part in her whole life.

    Mrs Wilberforce's innocence is absolute. The evil of the criminal gang wavers in squeamishness: as Rose explained to Mackendrick, "In the worst of men, there is that little touch of weakness which will destroy them." In fact, however, in Guinness's academic of dislocated mental genius, there was plenty to redeem the deformity. Mackendrick observed how Guinness worked on the character: "He has a strange habit of working from the outside in. In the early stages he's very much a putty-nosed character, working off gimmicks, funny voices and so on. But then he gets it down and discards the inessentials and finds the core of the character even when he's dealing with a comic grotesque." The model for Professor Marcus had also a strange personal reflection, especially as that model had just written a book about Guinness.

    Apparently the first idea Guinness had was to play Marcus as a cripple - with a dislocated hip which was, as Mackendrick says "quite gruesome but horrendously funny". This was discarded because the "boss" (Balcon) would never stand for it. Guinness sulked "and went and looked out of the window. And while I was talking about the script he was snipping away with a pair of scissors, and he made some paper teeth which he stuck in, then turned around and grinned at me."

    The portrait which now developed "snaggling teeth, lank hair, trailing scarf, the cigarette between second and third fingers" was, so Mackendrick said, "an absolute personal portrait of Kenneth Tynan", although Guinness naturally disclaimed any such intention. "I think I had in mind the wolf in Red Riding Hood. When I first saw myself in make-up I remember saying to Sandy, I look remarkably like an aged Ken Tynan; perhaps I'd better smoke cigarettes the way he does. But that was it. Nothing really deliberate."

    Or, one might add, conscious. But, unconsciously, this was Tynan to the core. Exaggerated though it was, the role grew into a "gestalt" cartoon of the naked psyche of Tynan, perhaps in a kind of (completely unintentional) revenge on him for writing a book about him. In some way, albeit at a comic, slightly ridiculous or even ironic level, it had to be a reassertion of control, of power, over the critic. Here, anyway, was Guinness's own private biography of Tynan, and, curiously enough, it revealed something accurate about the brilliant although often misguided mind of the young critic, described by one of Tynan's friends:

    The eyes, the whites above the pupils, dart right into the farthest recesses of your psyche, the hollow cheeks crease into the shape of a stylised gargoyle, and more fangs than one had believed possible fight like maenads to jockey themselves to the front.

    Buck-toothed and macabre as he is, Professor Marcus lives and makes us laugh because the portrait Guinness gave the audiences was rooted in reality and observation. The criminal mastermind was endowed with eccentricities both disconcerting and reassuring - kindness, intellectual scrupulousnesss,, wwhich are as much part of the comedy, as the terrifyingly enlarged teeth. To Elaine Dundy, Tynan's wife, there was absolutely no doubt that he was playing Ken. "They admired one another tremendously."

    It was an affectionate, ironic and many-layered portrait of someone who was by now himself becoming something of a caricature an immature, nightmarish person who was then at his peak but who was, as he always had been, operating at one remove from reality. This showed especially, for instance, when he would write a review of his old hero Orson Welles as Othello, calling him "Citizen Coon" and an amateur, the next inviting him to a party and expecting him not in any way to react in an unfriendly way to his review. Guinness was alert to the treachery of the brilliant mind and immortalised it in his depiction of Professor Marcus in a completely comic and harmless way. It was a portrait in which the spirit of G.K. Chesterton breathed beneath the surface: a diabolical visitation by a man who believed increasingly in the existence of the devil. He might even have quoted Chesterton: "St John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators."

    The Ladykillers was filmed in North London in the vicinity of King's Cross Station: with its image of a decaying England, its genteel horror, its Dickensian scale of character and indeed of good and evil it mingled mirthfulness and icy macabre in such a way that it drew a wide following and became a commercial success. The American critics failed to register its subtleties it was compared unfavourably to The Court Jester with Danny Kaye - yet it did well at the box-office.

    Mackendrick subsequently left Ealing, the studios were sold off to the BBC and Balcon took his Ealing entourage with him to Boreham Wood under the wing of MGM. Balcon was now joined by Kenneth Tynan, who became Script Editor in spring 1956, to a studio which he described as a kind of "outsize Anderson shelter" in a corner of the Metro lot. Later he advised on two not very distinguished Guinness films. Barnacle Bill ("not a very good idea of T.E.B. Clarke, for whom work had to be found"), and The Scapegoat. When he himself left Ealing feeling highly disgruntled at what he had not been able to do, he complained of Ealing's reluctance to deal at all seriously with sex, social problems or politics. He also felt it had "made" no actors of any significance, except for Alec Guinness.

    OSCARS

    1956: Nomination: Best Original Screenplay

    BRITISH FILM ACADEMY AWARDS

    1955: Best British Actress (Katie Johnson), Best British Screenplay (William Rose)
    Nominations: Best Film From Any Source, Best British Film

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    INFO. FROM EALING FOREVER BOOK

    Opened in the UK in December 1955.

    Was Mackendrick's last film for Ealing.

    Pavilion Books.

    2016: Forever Ealing Book Reviewed, Photos & In Stock - the ultimate source for anything Ealing




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    Y O U R S


    I would love to make this page different to the countless Dvd pages on The Ladykillers that are out there in the cut and paste world that is the web. You know, brief outline, thumbnail of cover and, if you're lucky, the back cover. Very little content is original and you'll find that on alot of releases. Any reviews leave out the fact that each movie has a heart and soul and touches people in different ways down the years. So if you would like to add anything on the film, whether good or bad, or trivia on the film - indeed anything like how it made you feel when you first saw it - then e-mail me here (ihuppert5@aol.com) and I'll add it within 24 hours, crediting you with just your first name.

    I'll start it off: it's arguably the best British comedy film ever made. I say 'arguably' but to me it is. Nothing comes close. Not Monty Python, not even Tony Hancock's The Rebel. It's a joy to watch from start to finish thanks to the ensemble cast. Whether the part is big or small each actor rises to the occasion.

    With Herbert Lom dying in .2012 the whole case has now stepped into the past but they are still alive, so alive, whenever you visit or revisit this glorious film bathed in Technicolor.




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