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This article is about the 1955 film. For the remake, see The Ladykillers .
For the 1988 TV movie, see Ladykillers .
"Ladykillers" redirects here. For the single by Lush, see Lovelife .


The Ladykillers (1955) is a dark comedy film, another edition in a series of post-war Ealing comedies. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, it stars Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner and Katie Johnson.

American William Rose wrote the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. He claimed to have dreamt the entire film and merely had to remember the details when he awoke.

Plot

A comically sinister criminal, "Professor" Marcus (Guinness), rents rooms in the gradually subsiding "lopsided" King's Crossmarker house of an innocent and eccentric old lady, Mrs Louisa Wilberforce (Johnson), a widow who lives alone with her parrots. The Professor has put together a gang for a sophisticated security van robbery at Kings Cross Stationmarker in London: the gentlemanly con-man "Major" Courtney (Parker), the Cockney spiv Harry Robinson (Sellers), the slow-witted ex-boxer "One-Round" Lawson (Green), and the vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey (Lom). However, the Professor convinces Mrs Wilberforce that they are an amateur string quintet using the room for rehearsal space. To maintain the deception, the gang members carry musical instruments and play a recording of Boccherini's Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op. 13 No. 5 during their planning sessions.

Mrs Wilberforce confronts Professor Marcus and his "ensemble"
After the successful heist, which involves putting the cash in a cabin trunk and placing it in the station parcel office, with Mrs Wilberforce playing an unwitting but crucial role by escorting the loot through the police cordon, the real conflict of the film begins. As the gang leaves her house, One-Round accidentally gets his cello case full of banknotes trapped in the front door as it is closed by Mrs Wilberforce. As he pulls the case free the banknotes spill out in front of Mrs Wilberforce. She realises the truth and informs Marcus that she is going to report them to the police.

The gang, it seems, has no choice but to do away with her. No one wants to do the job, so they draw matchsticks. The Major loses, but tries to make a run for it with the cash in hand. In quick succession, the criminals double-cross and kill one another, with the bodies ending up dumped into railway wagons passing behind the house. Throughout all this, the oblivious Mrs Wilberforce remains asleep.

In the end, the gang members are all dead, and Mrs Wilberforce is left with the money.The deaths occur in the following order:

  • Major Courtney is killed by Louis Harvey on Mrs Wilberforce's rooftop.
  • Mr. Robinson is killed by One-Round when One-Round thinks that Mr. Robinson has killed Mrs Wilberforce.
  • One-Round is killed by Louis when he tries to shoot Professor Marcus and Louis but "stupidly" leaves the safety catch on making him vulnerable in a cloud of smoke from a passing train.
  • Louis is thwarted by Professor Marcus, who loosens the trackside ladder on which Louis is standing, causing him to fall into a railway wagon.
  • Shortly after killing Louis, Professor Marcus, standing on a railway signal gantry, is hit by a signal arm when it falls, and he drops directly into another railway wagon.


Left alone with the money, Mrs Wilberforce goes to the police. They are familiar with her strange stories and pretend to believe her account, but jokingly tell her to keep the money. Ironically, Professor Marcus had earlier assured her that, because the money was insured, any effort on her part to return it would only confuse things. She is therefore finally persuaded that keep it she must. On the way home she rewards an astonished pavement artist with a £5 note.

Cast



The British comedian Frankie Howerd has a cameo role as an agitated market fruit seller caused when a horse begins to eat his apples, along with Kenneth Connor as a taxi driver. A young Stratford Johns (Charlie Barlow from Z-Cars) plays the driver of the lorry that gets robbed.

Awards and nominations

Wins



Nominations



Poll

In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted The Ladykillers the 36th greatest comedy film of all time.

Film locations

Mrs Wilberforce's house, No 57, was a set built at the western end of Frederica Street, directly above the southern portal of Copenhagen Tunnel on the railway line leading out of King's Cross station. However, the views from her house show Argyle Street, a couple of miles away, with the tower of St Pancras Stationmarker in the background.

Adaptations

  • A radio adaptation of the film was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 13 January 1996.




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