Saturday, June 29, 2024

THE LADYKILLERS (Alexander Mackendrick, 1955, UK)


Five serial criminals meet their match when confronted by an eccentric widow, her matronly charm a destructive (Wilber)force of nature. Director Alexander Mackendrick crafts one of the great British comedies, parodying rigorous British mores by contrasting anachronistic strait-laced ethics with ubiquitous post-war underworld principles.

The wonderful cast includes Alec Guinness, the “Professor” who commands the ersatz orchestra, whose physical attributes include a slight overbite, shadowy eyes, and a hunched posture that combined with his gentle voice makes him seem like he just walked out of a classic horror flick. Peter Sellers perfects a cockney accent and sociopathic glee as Harry Robinson, Cecil Parker as the scholarly “Major”, Danny Green as the punch-drunk “One-Round”, while Herbert Lom portrays the professional gangster, Louis Harvey. And of course, the geriatric Katie Johnson as the clueless but goodhearted Mrs. Wilberforce, whose upstanding morality and motherly acumen undo the best-laid plans.

The film introduces the pensioned matriarch as she apologizes to the local police Captain about a mistaken report of flying saucers, which immediately explains why the local Bobbies humor her and lend her little (if any) credibility. She wanders back to her crippled abode, a creaking home where walls and floors fail to meet at the requisite angles. Suddenly, a dark shadow stalks the periphery, its malignant form floating past the drawn shades and looming upon the doorstep. When the Professor introduces himself, it is obvious his intentions are criminal.

The narrative is a comedy of errors as Mrs. Wilberforce foils the dastardly conspiracy and discovers the stolen loot: the five felons must either convince her to keep quiet…or kill her. But each finds it emotionally difficult to knock-off the dowager, so they begin to murder each other, until she is left holding the bag. With equal parts suspense and humor, the narrative builds to a demented climax that finds the heroine finally able to afford a new umbrella. 

Final Grade: (B+)