All the classic Ealing comedies have special places in my heart. They formed my sense of being partially British at a time when I lived abroad.
I first saw “The Ladykillers” on TV, on a wet afternoon, with my mother in the 1960s. Mum preferred the glamour of Hollywood films but she was attached to British traditions and humour. I remember her telling me to look out for Peter Sellers and to look away from the scary scenes.
Having never seen this on a big screen and knowing it was set near where I work at Kings Cross, I was intrigued to see if the film survived the test of time. It does, but it will jar the modern viewer with its strict morality and tough judgements.
The audience of about 70 people at this free viewing at the Museum of London in Docklands – part of its series of movies set in London – appreciated every moment. For starters, it’s in colour and most of us had only seen it in black and white. The colour is grainy and a long way from the vibrant shades of the 1960s, but it is still technically wonderful.
Mrs Wilberforce (an extraordinary Katie Johnson, with a Miss Marple vibe) is looking for people to rent rooms in her detached house, which overlooks the tracks at Kings Cross. Alec Guinness plays Professor Marcus, pretending to need space to play music with a group, but actually planning a sinister robbery.
His co-conspirators, who also fake being musicians, are played by Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker and Danny Green. Frankie Howerd and Jack Warner have outstanding moments. Kenneth Connor and Stratford Johns feature in moving cameo performances.
There are moments of astonishing physical comedy from Peter Sellers and Frankie Howerd. But the picture belongs to the energy of Katie Johnson and Alec Guinness, who dominate the unfolding events. Argyle Street, Kings Cross and the lopsided house form fascinating backdrops to the darkness and light which mingle up and form the plot.
I finally got to watch the moments my mother told me to look away from. It was good to see them, but my mother’s judgement was correct. There were no small children present at this screening, and that’s a good thing. It is a little too deep and strong for the very young.
The introduction by the Museum’s Chris Hick enhanced the showing. Chris told us that Katie Johnson had died only a few years after the film was made. He also told us that many people think the movie featured Alistair Sim rather than Alec Guinness, which makes sense when you watch the movie.
Do support this entire film series. Please, please let the Museum of London continue showing these excellent movies.
At this moment, I feel very close to my mother and happy that she shared her love of film and of so much else with me. I am blessed and grateful. Monique Forthomme Nicholson, January 28th 1930 – March 5th 2010.