The Ladykillers

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This article is about the 1955 film. For the remake, see The Ladykillers (2004 film). For other uses, see Ladykillers (disambiguation).
The Ladykillers
The Ladykillers poster.jpg
Original film poster by Reginald Mount
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by William Rose
Starring
Music by Tristram Cary
Cinematography Otto Heller
Edited by Jack Harris
Production
  company
Ealing Studios
Distributed by
Release date(s)
  • 8 December 1955 (1955-12-08) (UK)
  • 3 February 1956 (1956-02-03) (US)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Ladykillers is a 1955 British black comedy film made by Ealing Studios. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, it stars Katie Johnson, Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, and Jack Warner.

American William Rose wrote the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing 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 summary[edit]

Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) is a sweet and eccentric old widow who lives alone with her raucous parrot 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 whatever.

She is approached by an archly sinister character, 'Professor' Marcus (Alec Guinness), 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 King's Cross Station: the gentlemanly and easily fooled con-man 'Major' Claude Courtney (Cecil Parker); the comedic Cockney spiv Harry Robinson (Peter Sellers); the slow-witted and "punch drunk" ex-boxer 'One-Round' Lawson (Danny Green); and the murderous, cruel and vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey (Herbert Lom). As a cover, the "Professor" convinces the naive Mrs. Wilberforce that the group is an amateur string quintet using the room for rehearsal space. To maintain the deception, the gang members carry musical instruments and play a recording of Boccherini's Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 No. 5 during their planning sessions.

After the heist, "Mrs. W" is deceived into retrieving the disguised "lolly" from the railway station herself. This she successfully manages to do but not without serious complications owing to her tendency to righteous meddling. Now the real difficulties begin. 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 lolly. In any case, 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 thinks Harry has killed Mrs. W after having a change of heart; 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 railway semaphore signal over the tunnel and drops lifeless 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 enormous denomination with a startled "starving artist".

Production[edit]

The film poster was by Reginald Mount.[1]

Cast[edit]

Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) lectures the gangsters (from left to right: Cecil Parker as Claude ("Major Courtney"), Herbert Lom as Louis ("Mr. Harvey"), Alec Guinness ("Professor Marcus"), and Danny Green as One-Round ("Mr. Lawson") after discovering their crime.

Uncredited

The comedian Frankie Howerd has a small role as an agitated barrow boy, as does Kenneth Connor as a taxi driver. A young Stratford Johns (Charlie Barlow from Z-Cars) plays the driver of the security van that gets robbed.

Guinness based Professor Marcus on the popular comedian and actor Alastair Sim.[2] Sim's daughter has claimed in interviews that many assume that her father actually played the part.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Wins[edit]

Nominations[edit]

Poll[edit]

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.

Film locations[edit]

Mrs. Wilberforce's house, No. 57, was a set built at the western end of Fredericia Street. In the 1970s a new housing estate was built in that area. The closest Mrs. Wilberforce's house was, is at the southern end of Conistone Way. It was directly above the southern portal of Copenhagen Tunnel on the railway line leading out of King's Cross railway station. However, the views from her house are of Argyle Street, some distance away, with the tower of St Pancras railway station in the background. The scene of the security truck turning into King's Cross used the route from Goods Way, passing gas holders, turning left into Battle Bridge Road and right into Cheney Road. Goods Way was realigned northwards as a part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link works and the gas holders were removed. A short length of Battle Bridge Road survives, but Cheney Road was largely removed to accommodate a realignment of Pancras Road that was originally to run to the east of the German Gymnasium, but now runs between St Pancras railway station and the German Gymnasium.

Adaptations[edit]

  • In 1966, the film was adapted into an opera by the Czech composer Ilja Hurník under the name The Lady and the Robbers (Dáma a lupiči).
  • A new adaptation of the film arrived to London Vaudeville Theatre[6] on their 2013 summer tour around the UK and Ireland.[7] A big part of the cast has been changed [8] for this new season.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Reginald Mount". The Art of War. The National Archives. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "screenonline.org.uk, part of the British Film Institure (BFI)". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  3. ^ "BBC radio programmes catalogue entry". Bbc.co.uk. 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  4. ^ Graham Linehan. "How Graham Linehan dynamited The Ladykillers". Guardian. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  5. ^ "Play details on Gielgud Theatre site". London-theatreland.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  6. ^ "Vaudeville Theatre". Vaudeville Theatre. 2007-10-09. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  7. ^ "» Latest News". Theladykillers.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  8. ^ "The Ladykillers Review - Best of Theatre News". Bestoftheatre.co.uk. 2013-07-15. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 

External links[edit]