Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Cast: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Katie Johnson, Danny Green, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker
Alec Guiness (best known as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the 1977 film Star Wars) leads a group of criminals as Professor Marcus, a criminal mastermind with an impeccable reputation and a knack for planning and executing flawless heists. Until now….
This delightful film begins very unassumingly as we get to know a doddering, innocent old woman as she reports on a U.F.O. siting to the police. She nearly forgets her umbrella as she saunters out of the police station. She returns home to her parrots and her lopsided old house only to find someone has taken an interest in renting one of her available rooms. The man at the doorstep seems innocent enough to the naive old woman. Actually, the same could be said about the man. He too feels she is innocent enough, but he may very well regret meeting the petite octogenarian that stands before him. When he explains that he and four other amateur musician friends merely want the use of the room for short while to practice their music she happily agrees. Of course the man at the doorstep requesting the use of her room is Professor Marcus, and he has a much more insidious plan than he is willing to admit.
Better stop there. It is better to stop before giving too much away. Part of the fun of the movie is not knowing how it will all unfold, but trust this reviewer, it is a good time and the first five minutes certainly don’t leave an viewer expecting what they’ll find in the last five minutes!
The Ladykillers is a timeless story that deals masterfully with the viewers expectations, and in so doing is very entertaining. The film is written in such a way that just when you think you know what to expect, you are surprised, and even if you do predict the next portion of the story, it doesn’t matter, because the execution of each plot point is so entertaining that the time just flies by as you watch the film. In fact, the screenplay earned William Rose an Oscar nomination. A nomination he well deserved it seems, for this material in the hands of an inexperienced screenwriter might have just ended up overly silly or zany. While moments of this film surely are zany, a balance is achieved in which there is still some suspense and some danger, but ultimately just good entertainment for all. There were so many ways this film could have gone wrong, and I don’t know why, but I kept wondering if it would. Perhaps it is because so many modern movies are often so predictable and generic. This film isn’t, and it goes places you wouldn’t initially expect. One might expect the aforementioned parrots to repeat something incriminating for instance. After all, it seems so many screenwriters are unable to avoid the temptation of using a parrot for just that purpose. The physical comedy could have ventured too far into silliness in a plot such as this, but that was also used in moderation. In some ways, it is the perfect use of restraint that made this movie so worth the time spent watching it.
Modern Hollywood could take notes from this perfectly balanced and delightfully performed little dark comedy. I recommend it for a fun evening.