Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No Little Old Ladies Were Harmed During the Making of This Film: "The Ladykillers" (1956)



This 1950's comedy is a bleak and funny affair that may not have you laughing out loud, but certainly smiling.

Mrs. Wilberforce lives alone in her surreal looking house (never having been repaired after the World War II bombings), occasionally bothering the local police with stories of UFO's and tales of the past. Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness) rents a room from her, and has four friends over to "practice" as a string quintet. In actuality, the five men are planning a heist, and they plan to use the sweet old lady as an unknowing participant.

While "The Ladykillers" does suffer from a few slow spots, the characters are some of the smartest dumb people ever put onscreen. Katie Johnson as Mrs. Wilberforce is simply wonderful, acting with such little effort, she is extraordinary. Her character is not some obligatory old battle axe, or befuddled grandma, but simply a lonely old woman who has lived quite a life. She takes in Marcus for the company more than the rent money.

Marcus, played by Guinness, is a creepy looking man. I was reminded of John Barrymore's Mr. Hyde when ever Marcus would smile with those giant teeth, trying to keep the unruly hair out of his face. Even the other four robbers have great characterization, not just character traits. Lom is the cool methodical criminal. Sellers is the youngest, but no newbie to crime. Cecil Parker plays a panicky man ready to go out of the window on a moment's notice, and Danny Green is dumb, tired of being called dumb, and has the most respect for Wilberforce.

Mackendrick's direction is astounding. Marcus' opening scenes, where he is simply a shadow at Wilberforce's windows, is creepy and memorable. Watching the men get along as well as they can, then the relationships begin to crumble as the old lady keeps getting in the way, is interesting as well as natural. This is not an ordinary heist picture, the characters all make up for the flaws, especially a number of slow moving scenes that simply do nothing for the plot.

"The Ladykillers" is currently being remade by the Coen brothers with Tom Hanks in the film. Probably these guys are the only ones who could take this idea and make it their own, or better. Until that comes out, a look back at the original proves to be entertaining. (* * * *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: The Ladykillers