There’s a reason that The Lady Killers is considered to be one of the best British comedies ever made. It’s not because it comes from the same studio that produced Ealing Classics such as The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts & Coronets. It’s not because it has a superlative cast that includes Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, and Cecil Parker. It’s not even the lush Technicolor. What makes The Ladykillers so incredible is that it is absolutely tone-perfect. The humor—dark and deadpan—is never over payed. The rollercoaster plot is utterly believable and totally engaging. And underpinning it all the wonderful smallness of everything.
The Coen Brothers famously remade The Ladykillers in 2004 and while it was a good film, in relocating the tale to America, they lost something essential. Ealing’s comedies usually take place in run-down terraces, crumbling ancestral piles, or in small, lost-in-time communities. The humour is the humour of little things, magnified beyond all sense and sanity. Tiny things—literally in the case of Mrs Lopsided (Katie Johnson)—that somehow always manage to thwart the criminals and the geniuses.
In The Ladykillers Alec Guinness delivers, arguably, one of his greatest performances as the unhinged Professor Marcus. He’s an actor who is rarely ‘average’ but there isn’t a moment on screen here where he’s less than brilliant. And—maybe it was the script, or the on-set camaraderie—but his exuberance seems infectious. Simply everyone delivers their best.
2020 marks 65 years since the film’s original release and StudioCanal’s reissue is suitably impressive.
As well as DVD & Blu-ray, The Ladykillers is also available in a supremely lavish 4K UHD box set which contains the film on all three formats alongside a Blu-ray of special features and a CD of wonderful music from the Ealing classics. As reviewer Sam Love, comments, “the film’s 4K transfer on the UHD disc is a thing of absolute beauty, bringing the glorious Technicolour to life thanks to HDR support. It is without a doubt the best the film has ever looked, with parts of it looking so sharp that you would be forgiven for thinking the film was brand new. This is a true masterclass in film restoration that will have fans’ jaws on the floor.”