A gang of thieves rent a room upstairs from an old woman, who thinks they're a musical band. Somehow, the woman inadvertently gets mixed up in their scheme without knowing it and then the gang must debate on whether to kill her or not, especially when they all like the poor old dame.
Alexander Mackendrick's 'The Ladykillers' is a dark, comic caper, considered the last classic made by Great Britain's famous Ealing Studios, before the BBC took it over in 1959. Alongside Frank Capra's 'Arsenic and Old Lace,' it's one of the sweetest, most charming films filled with multiple murders you are likely to find.
The elderly Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) is a familiar face around the London police station, due in large part to her calls requesting assistance in getting a parrot out of a tree, or stopping by with information regarding flying saucers. The officers kindly tolerate her frequent contact because she is a widow who lives alone.
Mrs. Wilberforce has a room to let, and her posted advertisement piques the interest of "Professor" Marcus (Alec Guinness), first seen as in silhouette paired with menacing music. He comes to her house and finds it off-kilter due to the bombings during WWII. He is very interested in the room and inquires as to whether he will be allowed to invite his friends over to practice music, which Mrs. Wilberforce whole-heartedly agrees to.
However, this is all just a ruse. Marcus and his gang, comprised of Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), Harry Robinson (Peter Sellers), "One-Round" Lawson (Danny Green), and Louis Harvey (Herbert Lom), are in actually planning a heist and playing a record while meeting. But the meetings never run smoothly, as Mrs. Wilberforce constantly interrupts, inquiring about tea and seeking assistance in giving her birds their medicine. When one escapes its cage, the gang's inclination is to ignore the landlady until she informs them that the last time this happened, she required the help of the police and fire department. This sets off a very funny sequence of events as they bumble around the house, breaking chairs and stumbling about the roof, trying to retrieve the bird. The gang soon gets fed up with Mrs. Wilberforce, but Marcus has a plan to incorporate her unknowingly. It is then that the movie begins taking numerous turns for the silly, the macabre, and the truly diabolical.
The cast is top notch, led by Alec Guinness, whose natural skills in both comedy and drama were demonstrated throughout illustrious career. His disheveled hair and fake teeth create an odd look for Marcus. Fans of 'The Pink Panther' series will enjoy seeing the pairing of Peter Sellers and Hebert Lom, who were destined for more outstanding comedies. At 77, Katie Johnson also delivers a marvelous performance in her second to last film.
William Rose created an excellent script, one filled with laughs and thrills, that is always a step ahead of the audience. It's a comedy of errors, born out of situations as opposed to jokes. He would go on to create the madcap 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' and the interracial drama "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.' Director Mackendrick used a light, yet purposeful touch, as he allowed the story to unfold before the camera, the results are both surprising and truly entertaining.
The video is given a 1080p AVC-MPEG-4 transfer which is presented at 1.33:1. The Technicolor source used was very damaged, filled with dirt and stains. A special feature reveals its initially harrowing condition. This has been cleaned up and improved, but problems remain.
The film was shot with a lightly hued, dull color scheme. Black items also tend to be light except in the darkness of shadows. The only bit of mild vibrancy occurs with occasional red objects and the green of the parrots. Pale and pink fleshtones are consistent throughout. Colors appear to be faithfully rendered when seen in the special feature comparison. Contrast is flat, and textures can be seen in the foreground, but lose their sharpness when they recede into the background, limiting depth.
One major problem area is a scene where Mrs. Wilberforce rides in a taxi. It looks as if light bled into the print as redness seeps into the bottom of the shot. High definition also increases the feeling of phoniness inherent in rear-projected images.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 comes in English, French, and Spanish, allowing for no surround or imaging and minor bass. However, I prefer to allow Dolby ProLogic to redirect audio to front center channel, creating a more authentic experience in regard to the source material.
Elements are balanced well, although music is purposefully jarring on occasion for comedic effect. The dialogue is understandable, although a lifelessness from the ADR performances is apparent. The dynamic range doesn't have much breadth. The loudness is limited to infrequent music stings and train activity, the latter of which increases during the climax. Unlike the visuals, the source audio seemed relatively free of defects or distortion.
'The Ladykillers' is a very amusing film that combines humor and suspense and should appeal to fans of both. It is well crafted and is deservesingly designated a classic as its quality holds up over five decades since its release. This title is one of the first entries in the StudioCanal Collection. Looking to compete alongside The Criterion Collection, they have delivered a comparable product with this good Blu-ray release featuring a decent number of extras.