Whether or not The Ladykillers star Alec Guinness was fully aware of how horrifically funny his grotesque false teeth would come across when projected on massive movie screens after this last great Ealing Studios comedy reached theaters in 1955, the illustrious British actor's choice of choppers was nevertheless one for the ages.Robert Abele, LA Times, 2nd July 2021
The last great Ealing Comedy, in a pristine restored print.Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk, 8th November 2020
The much-loved British caper starring Alec Guinness is being reissued, 65 years on, fully restored from the original negative. It was shot at Ealing Studios and around King's Cross in London, where photographers captured the stars relaxing on set.Sarah Gilbert, The Guardian, 23rd October 2020
Sixty-five years later the classic from Ealing Studios is still subversive, hilarious and distinctly English.Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 23rd October 2020
This last of the Ealing comedies is an exceptionally black specimen, with Alec Guinness as the sinister Professor Marcus, a fanged master-crook lodging at the home of sweet old Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). When his gang - including Peter Sellers's dim teddy boy and Herbert Lom's wannabe American gangster - swipe £60,000 in a raid, they decide the landlady has to go; but they are, of course, in the Ealing equivalent of the Bates motel and stand no chance against the dotty old girl. It's all vastly superior to the Coen brothers' misguided remake.Paul Howlett, The Guardian, 27th June 2017
The Ladykillers was the last of the great Ealing comedies and, almost by default, the dying gasp of a vanishing London; still rationed and rubble-strewn, with steam trains on the tracks and carthorses on the streets.
Shot in 1955 by Alexander Mackendrick, from a script that purportedly came to writer William Rose in a dream, this film charts the misadventures of a gang of thieves who hole up in the home of a guileless widow. Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) lives in a lopsided house up a King's Cross cul-de-sac, a place that rings to the din of steam whistles and parrot squawks. It becomes the base for a bullion robbery hatched by the oily Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness), who convinces the owner that he and his associates (Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom among them) are actually members of a string quartet. The musicians need a rehearsal space and Mrs Wilberforce is only to happy to oblige, standing on the landing and thrilling to the strains of Boccherini's Minuet (Third Movement) as played on an antique turntable. "You liked that, huh?" mumbles the brutish One Round (Danny Green), who wouldn't know a cello from a hole in the ground.
How does one improve on a film as brisk, pungent and bracing as this? The Coen brothers notoriously tried and failed with their fumbled 2004 remake - a film that seemed to miss (or at least misread) all the elements that made the original so special. "It's an Ealing comedy so there's something very British and genteel about it," Joel Coen sniffed at the time. "That isn't particularly our thing." Genteel? What film was he watching, exactly? The Ladykillers is as black as pitch and as corrosive as battery acid. The crims are picked off one by one; victims of their greed and wickedness while their supposed target bobs - vaguely, innocently - just out of reach.
God, it seems, protects drunks, little children and meddlesome old women with too much time on their hands. So hang on to your handbag and keep the parrot in its cage. Once darkness falls and the goods trains start rolling, this dream of a film can feel suspiciously like a nightmare.Xan Brooks, The Guardian, 11th October 2013
Lugubrious Alec Guinness leads a nefarious bunch of ne'er-do-wells (among them Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom) posing as musicians as they plan a robbery from their rented room. When their landlady discovers the truth, they decide to bump her off, but Mrs Wilberforce (78-year-old Katie Johnson) proves rather more indomitable than they had imagined. Alexander Mackendrick directs one of the very best Ealing Comedies.The Telegraph, 8th July 2011