Sight and Sound - 10/01/2002
"...Viewed at half a century's distance, it comes across as a sardonic paean to Victorian values and the enduring power of the English nanny..."
THE LADYKILLERS, director Alexander Mackendrick's third Ealing farce, is the final comedy produced by the famous British studio and one of its most celebrated. Like the equally applauded KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, the film is more sophisticated and blacker in tone than typically lighthearted Ealing fare (such as Mackendrick's WHISKEY GALORE!). Alec Guinness stars as the superbly shifty, toothily threatening Professor Marcus, the leader of a crime ring planning a heist. Marcus rents rooms from a sweet, eccentric old lady, Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), in her crooked London house. The professor and his co-conspirators, blowhard Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), creepily suave Louis (Herbert Lom), chubby Harry (Peter Sellers), and muscleman One-Round (Danny Green), pose as an unlikely string quartet using the rooms for rehearsal. Dodging Mrs. Wilberforce's constant interruptions, the hoods hit upon the idea to use her in the daring daylight robbery (filmed in and around London's King's Cross station). When the old girl discovers the truth, Marcus and company cannot persuade her to stay buttoned up about it and thus decide to do her in. Accompanied by a noirish cacophony of screeching trains, parrots, and little old ladies at afternoon tea, a series of unlikely events builds to the hilarious, surprising finale.
As part of an elaborate heist, a band of no-nonsense gangsters take up residence in an apartment posing as a musical ensemble. However, the little old landlady ends up compromising each and every step of their plan, forcing them to attempt her murder with similar results.
Filmed on location at King's Cross, London, England.
THE LADYKILLERS is number 13 on the British Film Institute 100 list.
Peter Sellers (Harry) and Herbert Lom (Louis) would again costar as Inspector Clouseau and Chief Inspector Dreyfus, respectively, in the PINK PANTHER film series.
Both Alec Guinness (Professor Marcus) and Peter Sellers were famed for their extraordinary knack for disguise--Guinness for playing eight different parts in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, and Sellers for playing a trio of roles in DR. STRANGELOVE.