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Ladykillers, The (Ealing 1955, Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers)

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William Rose’s Academy Award-nominated screenplay cast Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus, the rather sinister ‘musician’ who takes lodgings with elderly widow Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). In fact the Professor is the leader of a gang of crooks – Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and Danny Green – who successfully pull off a robbery at King’s Cross Station.

Mrs Wilberforce unwittingly helps them bring the loot back to her house but when she discovers the money the Professor decides she has to be killed. But the thieves, unable to agree who should do the dark deed, fall out and kill each other, leaving her with £60,000.

The Ladykillers was the last Ealing Comedy and premiered at the same time that it was announced the studios were to be sold to the BBC – a suitable high note on which to end the run of classic British comedies. Guinness’s uniquely weird, very funny performance earned him considerable praise and he was well served by Parker, Lom, Sellers and Green and by entertaining cameos from Jack Warner and Frankie Howerd. Guinness lost out in the award stakes, however, to 77-year-old Katie Johnson, who had played only minor roles since her screen debut in 1932’s After Office Hours. This was her finest role and her delightful scene-stealing performance rightly earned her the British Oscar for Best Actress.

The veteran director of such Ealing classics as The Man in the White Suit and Whisky Galore, Mackendrick’s comment on the film is illuminating: ‘To be frivolous about frivolous matters, that’s merely boring. To be frivolous about something that’s in some way deadly serious, that’s true comedy.’

production details
UK / Ealing / 91 minutes / 1955

Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Writers: William Rose, Jimmy O’Connor,

cast
Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus
Peter Sellers as Harry, alias ‘Mr. Robinson’
Katie Johnson as Mrs. Wilberforce
Frankie Howerd as The Barrow Boy
Madge Brindley as Large Lady (uncredited)
Helene Burls as Hypatia (uncredited)
Michael Corcoran as Burglar (uncredited)
George Hilsdon as Security Van Driver (uncredited)
Vincent Holman as Station Master (uncredited)
Stratford Johns as Security Guard (uncredited)
Aileen Lewis as Lady Leaving Kings Cross Station (uncredited)
Edie Martin as Lettice (uncredited)
Jack Melford as Detective (uncredited)
Ewan Roberts as Constable (uncredited)
George Roderick as Radio Car Policeman (uncredited)
John Rudling as Nervous Man (uncredited)
Leonard Sharp as Pavement Artist (uncredited)
Peter Williams as Detective at Parcels Office (uncredited)
Neil Wilson as Policeman (uncredited)

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