The Ladykillers dates from the final year of the Ealing Studios - 1955, when the studios were sold to the BBC. It is the only entrant in the Alec Guiness Ealing Comedies Collection box set which is in colour and widescreen.
Yet despite these 'advances', it seems more dated than its Academy-ratio black-and-white brethren. The plot seems somehow more contrived - the script is not as literate as the three earlier movies in the set.
But for lovers of early British comedies, there is a lot to enjoy here. The actors are finely cast, and the humour almost as black as the wonderful Kind Hearts and Coronets. There are some deliciously subtle comedy moments, which raises the movie above the standard bar, if not reaching the levels set by its predecessors.
The story is a familiar one - a gang plots the 'perfect' crime, only to be foiled by mishap and chance. Professor Marcus, played by Alec Guinness, is the 'brains' of the team. He sports a truly horrific pair of dentures, but his characterisation goes way beyond the ill-fitting teeth; this is one of his better roles in the Sir Alec Guinness Ealing Comedy DVD Collection set.
His gang comprises the sinister foreign criminal Louis, played to evil perfection by Herbert Lom (Inspector Clouseau's perpetual sparring-partner in a parallel-celluloid world), the very military Major Courtney, played by the inspired Cecil Parker, the 'heavy' of the team, One-Round, played by Danny Green, and the cockney Teddy-Boy spiv Harry, played by Peter Sellers in one of his earliest roles.
They plot their crime in an eccentric house inhabited by a most eccentric little-old-landlady, Louisa Wilberforce, played by veteran actress Katie Johnson. This ill-assorted quartet of villians pose as a chamber-music ensemble. While they plot, on goes their record of Boccherini - their musical 'cover'.
As Louisa goes about foiling their best-laid plans, she also just about steals the movie. It takes the combined efforts of Guinness, Lom, Parker and Sellers to keep wrenching the spotlight back from her. If it were a boxing match, I'd give it to her on points, with the combination of Guinness and Lom unlucky narrow-losers. Parker is as deliciously upright as ever, while Sellers is unfortunately wasted - neither scriptwriters nor director knew at this stage what a major talent was there.
The film is a total delight for the first 50, and for the final ten, minutes. The hanky-panky in the intervening half-hour proves interminable. It now seems just poorly paced and a bit hackneyed.
But the ending is a total delight, and there is enough in the film as a whole to make it worthwhile. There are delicious touches - as when Louisa finds herself talking to two of the gang while the music from the complete 'ensemble' keeps drifting down the stairs to her. Gentle, subtle humour.
And watch for veteran actor Jack Warner. In a nice tribute to the classic cops-and-robbers movie The Blue Lamp, which spawned the long-running TV series Dixon of Dock Green, he plays the friendly neighbourhood police superintendent, a man who knows Louisa's foibles just a bit too well.
This is an excellent anamorphic transfer of this 1955 widescreen Technicolor movie. The colours are a bit dull compared to the American use of Technicolor, but this is, after all, England, where everything is usually deadly-dull, and the sky only occasionally loses its lack-lustre pallor.
Flesh-tones are natural and the overall effect is very pleasing. Print-quality seems high, and there are no jarring artefacts.