Friday, 7 August 2015

Film Friday: The Ladykillers (1955)


 Today on Film Friday, the 1955 Ealing Studios classic The Ladykillers.
(as an aside, Gunga Din, which I wrote about here, is on Saturday morning (tomorrow) on BBC2 at 6.30am)

Five diverse oddball criminal types planning a bank robbery rent rooms on a cul-de-sac from an octogenarian widow under the pretext that they are classical musicians.

The Ladykillers is a British black comedy made by Ealing Studios. It was directed by Alexander Mackendrick and stars Katie Johnson, Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, and Jack Warner.

American William Rose wrote the screenplay and he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay and won the BAFTA for Best British Screenplay. He claimed to have dreamt the entire film and merely had to remember the details when he awoke.

William Rose and Alexander Mackendrick were said to have quarreled quite violently during pre-production work on the film. Rose then stormed off leaving his screenplay not quite finished. Mackendrick and TV comedy writer Larry Stevens provided the finishing touches. Later, Rose apologised profusely to Mackendrick and praised his handling of the film lavishly. 

I love this film, love, love, love it. There was absolutely no need to remake this, it was a foolish step and people should know when to leave well enough alone. 

I always enjoy watching Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus in this film, he is always up to something in the background, even if the focus at that moment is not on him. The casting was pure genius and the Professor is one of my favourite film characters.

People I have spoken to often wrongly recall the role of Professor Marcus as having been played by Alistair Sim so it's interesting to know that when Alec Guinness was offered the part, he wrote to the producers to say "but this is meant for Alastair Sim surely". It is not known however, if Sim was considered for the part. Alec Guinness has said that he based his characterisation on theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. 

The producers originally rejected director Alexander Mackendrick's choice of Katie Johnson for the role of Mrs. Wilberforce on the grounds that she might be too frail for the project, and so they cast a younger actress - who died before filming began. 


Mackendrick originally considered Richard Attenborough for the role of Harry, the character played by Peter Sellers in the film and Tommy Cooper was suggested for the role of One-Round but stage commitments prevented him from auditioning, leaving the role to Danny Green. 

Spoiler (highlight to read): The piece of music that the gang pretends to rehearse is the Minuet from Luigi Boccherini's "Quintet in E major, Opus 11, Number 5". Each time one of the gang members is killed, the arrangement of the music changes from quintet to quartet to trio etc, as if it is being played only by the surviving members of the gang.

Did you know ... When Mrs Wilberforce's parrot flies out of the living room and into the hallway, it clearly says "Alec Guinness" as it lands. 

Have you ever seen The Ladykillers?
If not, try and catch it when it's on, it's often shown on More4 in the daytime, often on bank holidays or at Christmas, you won't regret it.


  1. You know, come to think of it, I don't believe that I have seen this movie. It certainly looks enjoyable and I will be checking to see if has it this evening (with Tony gone, I've been watching a lot of movies and TV shows there in the evenings when I have my dinner, so I'm always up for a great recommendation like this).

    ♥ Jessica

  2. I have never seen the remake and never will. The original is simply brilliant, one of the best British films ever in my opinion. Katie Johnson is marvellous in it. And alec Guiness is marvellous in anything.


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