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Archive for the ‘Herbert Lom’ Category

The Ladykillers

26 Aug

The Ladykillers – directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Gangster Comedy. 91 minutes Color 1955.

★★★★★

You gather your friends about you, and you set them up with some shortbread and whisky or a spot of brandy or something convivial, and you watch this gooseberry pie of a comedy together, for you don’t want your neighbors to hear you guffaw alone. It stars Katie Johnson, a tiny little actress who steals every scene she appears in with Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Jack Warner, Peter Sellers, and Alex Guinness. They don’t have a chance, because she keeps everything she does as small as toast and jam. If you watch her analytically, you see a performance of such subtlety, experience, and skill that it forces you to eat out its hand handily. She’d been acting since 1894. She is 77 years old and pretty and her cheeks are pink as a rose teacup. She is well spoken and has beautiful manners. She presents her character as perfectly intelligent and considerate to a fault. But she is more than beautifully cast. She plays the part as a miniature Napoleon hiding in a rose. Not one of these gangsters dare disobey her. The story is beautifully set up by the writer and director with scenes in her local police station, whose chief pacifies her reports of a friend’s sightings of alien invaders, and she goes back to her lopsided house and rents out one of its rooms to a weird lodger played by Alec Guinness, who is clearly doing an imitation of Alastair Sim. This is disconcertingly funny at first because of the match of Sim’s buck teeth, watery eyes, sleazy hair, and drooling, delirious starvation, but Guinness’s performance fades somewhat as the film progresses because it is an imposture facing off against the real thing, Katie Johnson’s Mrs Wilberforce. The same is true of the others, who tend toward the cartoon. They are all entertaining, of course, except perhaps for Peter Sellers, an actor who was not inherently funny, whose comedy depended upon prop gags. You’d rather watch Katie Johnson sleep than watch him fumble with a gun. The only one who matches Johnson shot for shot is Danny Green as One-Round, the ignorant palooka strongman, because what he is doing as an actor is real. The look on Katie Johnson’s face as it dawns with the truth of what these bums are up to in her house is a sight to rejoice in. So gather your friends around like a tea cozy. You will all be pleased to be pleased. This film is vacation from the crude, a recess from the explicit. And when it is over you will have a discussion on what the word “entertainment” actually means. Although, of course, you don’t have to, because as with this film, entertainment frees us for a time into Liberty Hall, where, as Sean Kelly once told me, nothing is forbidden and nothing is required.

 

 

 
 
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