- This article is about the 1955 film. For the remake, see The Ladykillers (2004 film). For other uses, see Ladykillers (disambiguation).
Original film poster
|Directed by||Alexander Mackendrick|
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Written by||William Rose|
|Music by||Tristram Cary|
|Editing by||Jack Harris|
|Distributed by||Rank Organisation (UK)
Continental Distributing (US)
|Running time||97 minutes|
The Ladykillers is a 1955 British black comedy film made by Ealing Studios. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, it stars Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner and Katie Johnson.
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.
Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) 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, the officers humour her, but 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. Unbeknown to her, 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 comedicCockney spiv Harry Robinson (Peter Sellers); the slow-witted and "stupid" ex-boxer 'One-Round' Lawson (Danny Green); and the murderous, cruel, 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 rallies, and 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".
- Katie Johnson as Mrs Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce
- Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus
- Cecil Parker as Major Claude Courtney
- Herbert Lom as Louis Harvey
- Peter Sellers as Harry Robinson
- Danny Green as 'One-Round' Lawson
- Jack Warner as the police superintendent
- Philip Stainton as the police sergeant
- Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy
- Phoebe Hodgson as Constance
- Helene Buris as Appolonia
- Evelyn Kerry as Amelia
- Edie Martin as Lettice
- Kenneth Connor as the taxi driver
- Harold Goodwin as the railway parcels clerk
- Lucy Griffiths as Miss Pringle
- Vincent Holman as the station master
- Stratford Johns as the security van guard
- Jack Melford as a detective
- Leonard Sharp as the pavement artist
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.
Awards and nominations
- BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role - Katie Johnson
- BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay - William Rose
- Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay - William Rose
- BAFTA Award for Best Film, British Film and Film from any Source
Mrs. Wilberforce's house, No. 57, was a set built at the western end of Frederica Street, 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 Goodsway, passing gas holders, turning left into Battle Bridge Road and right into Cheney Road. Goodsway 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.
- A radio adaptation of the film was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 13 January 1996 starring Edward Petherbridge and Margot Boyd.
- In 2004, the Coen Brothers directed a Hollywood remake of the film, starring Tom Hanks, with J. K. Simmons, Marlon Wayans, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, and Irma P. Hall. For the remake, the setting of the film is moved from London to Saucier, Mississippi, home of a riverboat casino.
- In 2011 the film was adapted as a play by Graham Linehan. It premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse in November that year before transferring to the Gielgud Theatre in London.
- A new adaptation of the film arrived to London Vaudeville Theatre on their 2013 summer tour around the UK and Ireland. A big part of the cast has been changed  for this new season.
- screenonline.org.uk, part of the British Film Institure (BFI)
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007jnlr, BBC radio programmes catalogue entry
- How Graham Linehan dynamited The Ladykillers
- Play details on Gielgud Theatre site
- The Ladykillers at the Internet Movie Database
- The Ladykillers at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Ladykillers at allmovie
- The Ladykillers at the TCM Movie Database
- Then and now photographs of locations