First month in another year of 12 Classics/ the Blind Spot Challenge, and what a great way to start off, with the delightfully dark and brilliant comedy The Ladykillers.
A criminal gang planning a heist (Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Danny Green) take a room to let at the lopsided, wacky home of Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). Since they’re pretending to be musicians they lock themselves in upstairs to plot the robbery and put on records to fool The Old Lady, whom they also plan to unwittingly involve in their caper. But as they soon learn, no really good plan could include the challenge of Mrs. Wilberforce. Defeated and driven nutty by the endless ways the tough Old Lady has derailed their foolproof plan and turned them against each other, “Professor Marcus” (Guinness) laments, “There were only five of us…It would take 40 perhaps to deal with her because we’ll never be able to kill her…”
Everything about this is funny, from the setup to the phony, oddball string quintet playing the same pretty minuet over and over, The Old Lady’s persistence and their feigned politeness, Guinness’s false teeth and creepy stare, Lom’s cold villainy and Green’s dopiness. The close calls as the just-stolen money is handled by the police before it makes it back to the house are priceless, as is the bit where the gang are trying to get away but decide to kill the Old Lady first, and end up having a tea party with a roomful of her friends. Contemplating whether they should kill her visitors too, more and more arrive, prompting Harry (Sellers) to ask if they should “charter a bus.” The Old Lady’s scolding, insistence on going to the police, the gang’s attempts to kill her and failure to do so results in some of the funniest bumbling, backstabbing, and death I’ve ever seen.
Ironically, Mrs. Wilberforce is the “Lady who cries wolf” down at the police station, so the gang needn’t have worried. The police politely humour her spaceship sightings and sort out the dramas she creates about town between taxi drivers and merchants, and when she tells them of the gang who vanished during the night and left all that cash in her house, they tell her to keep the money and never mention it again. With a shrug she says she can finally replace that ugly umbrella she keeps “forgetting” everywhere.
Almost every time I watch a good movie I check to see what one of my favourite reviewers Glenn Erickson aka DVD Savant had to say about it. In this case he talks about the connections between Mrs. Wilberforce and Granny in the Tweety & Sylvester cartoons. There and elsewhere, it’s pointed out that Alec Guinness based his character on Alistair Sim (possibly Kenneth Tynan). It’s an all-time great comedy by director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success) and writer William Rose (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).
See many other movie bloggers’ discoveries in the Blind Spot Series hosted by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee.