The sly brilliance of Alec Guinness is only one of the many assets of The Ladykillers. The film contains a preposterous intricacy of sweetness and sinister shadows that sets up a comedy equal to any of the best Guinness films.
The movie revolves around five thieves who plan and execute a neat robbery, using a little old lady's house as a temporary hideout. Their kindly landlady eventually discovers what the quintet actually is, but not one of the grim crooks summons enough nerve to eliminate this liability in old lace. Unable to kill her, the frantic thieves fall out. Luckily a railroad bridge is handy; bodies are dumped into passing freight trains with delightful regularity to the solemn accompaniment of pompous funeral marches.
Creating spoofs of odd gangster types, the actors turn this bedlam into constant comedy. As chief thief, Guinness wears enormous sweaters, a ten foot scarf, and chipmunk teeth. The stare of a worried, weird master-mind that often adorns his face can merge effortlessly into an upset smile of sudden defeat or a polished smirk of careless confidence. Gliding through perpetual intrigue, Guinness is at his best.
His gang, a rogue's gallery of caricatures, also gets the sharp treatment it deserves. As a black-shirted brute, Herbert Lom providides a spicy commentary on American mobsters. As the artistic member of the crew, Peter Sellers serves cowardice as if it were caviar. There is also a hulk; whose huge and simple soul is bared by the pleasant acting of Danny Green. Cecil Parker, as a moustached Major who looks as if one could and does meet him in all the best places, completes the money-mad group.
Playing Mrs. Wilberforce, the contrast to the mob's coarseness, Katie Johnson is perfect. Offering unwanted cups of tea, forgetting umbrellas, or banging on a sink to make water flow, she frustrates the world's complexity by being innocent and gentle. Her solution to the loot problem is clear--"surely we must just send back the money."
Katie Johnson is the surprise attraction of The Lady-killers and often outshines Guinness in making the film's mock-murderous mood a lighthearted success. Any Guinness film is good; this one is better.
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