The Ladykillers


1h 37m 1955
The Ladykillers

Brief Synopsis

An eccentric bandit gang moves into a little old lady's boardinghouse to plot a major heist.

Film Details

Also Known As
El quinteto de la muerte, Lady Killers, The, Ladykillers, Tueurs de dames
Genre
Comedy
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
1955

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Synopsis

A gang of thieves rent a room upstairs from an old woman,who thinks they're a musical band. Somehow, the woman inadvertently gets mixed up in their scheme without knowing it and then the gang must debate on whether to kill her or not, especially when they all like the poor old dame.

Photo Collections

The Ladykillers - Academy Archives
Here are archive images from The Ladykillers (1955), courtesy of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Film Details

Also Known As
El quinteto de la muerte, Lady Killers, The, Ladykillers, Tueurs de dames
Genre
Comedy
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
1955

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Screenplay

1957

Articles

The Ladykillers (1955)


One of the most popular films produced by Ealing Studios during their peak years, The Ladykillers (1955) is a delightful black comedy that has aged much better than some of the other Ealing entertainments from the same period. For one thing, the clever script by William Rose (it was nominated for an Oscar) is so impeccably British, conjuring up a portrait of postwar London that is both idealized and satiric. And the central premise is hard to top. A gang of thieves, headed by Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness), takes two rooms at a boardinghouse run by the eccentric Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). Here they pretend to be a practicing string quartet as a cover for their true intention -- a security van robbery. Although the gang successfully carry off their heist, the criminals are eventually undone by their own greed and their various, unsuccessful attempts to murder their meddling landlady who remains oblivious to their crime -- or does she?

According to the film's producer in his autobiography (Michael Balcon Presents...A Lifetime of Films), screenwriter William Rose "literally dreamed up The Ladykillers -- the germ of the idea came to him while he was asleep and at a time when he confessed that his brain was barren of ideas. He had been working at high pressure and felt creatively exhausted. Happily for us, he recalled the dream one day while talking with [director Alexander] "Sandy" MacKendrick, and so was born the story of the somewhat pixilated old lady getting involved in the doings of an extraordinary gang of crooks." The interesting thing about The Ladykillers, which is set in a precisely detailed world of English manners and tradition, is the fact that Rose was actually an American. He defected to Canada prior to World War II and joined the army there, later coming to England where he attempted to enter the film industry. He eventually went to work at Ealing where he worked on Genevieve (1953), Touch and Go (1955) and other features.

While Rose is directly responsible for much of The Ladykillers's offbeat, macabre humor, the film also owes a great deal of its success to the brilliant comic performances of Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Peter Sellers and the excellent ensemble cast. In fact, Sellers was later quoted as saying, "The first real film I made was The Ladykillers. I can remember all of that very well. I used to watch Alec Guinness, who is an absolute idol of mine, do everything, his rehearsals, his scenes, everything. It was fascinating....Not that I could hope to be as good as Guinness. But he is my ideal...and my idol." Ironically, Guinness, who was an international star by the time he made The Ladykillers, was terribly insecure about his talent and even told director Alexander MacKendrick prior to filming The Ladykillers that he was too old for the part and recommended hiring another actor. Producer Balcon in his autobiography added that "Peter Sellers was much the same and it is interesting that they greatly admired one another. He made his first film for me with Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers and he was desperately anxious. He kept asking, 'Is it all right? Am I any good?'...the title was literal. The lady the gang were intent on doing away with was a dear little old actress, Kate Johnson, who had played lots of small parts in films. It was curious to see her accept her elevation to stardom quite calmly in her seventies while it was Sellers, still in his twenties, who was unsure of himself. Sadly, Katie Johnson's only big part was her last [she died two years later], but that is surely the way for a pro to go."

Other cast members who would go on to greater fame and fortune after The Ladykillers were Kenneth Connor and Frankie Howard, who appeared in several popular Carry On comedies and, of course, Herbert Lom, who would team up with Peter Sellers years later, playing his nemesis in a series of Pink Panther films. The Ladykillers marked Alexander MacKendrick's final film for Ealing Studios; he soon departed for America where he would direct Sweet Smell of Success in 1957, a movie which was a complete departure from his forte -- British comedy. In 2004, the Coen Brothers remade The Ladykillers with Tom Hanks and moved the setting from London to Biloxi, Mississippi.

Producer: Michael Balcon
Director: Alexander MacKendrick
Screenplay: William Rose
Art Direction: Jim Morahan
Cinematography: Otto Heller
Editing: Jack Harris
Music: Tristram Cary
Cast: Alec Guinness (Professor Marcus), Cecil Parker (Maj. Courteney), Herbert Lom (Louis Harvey), Peter Sellers (Harry Robinson), Katie Johnson (Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce), Danny Green (One-Round), Frankie Howard (The Barrow Boy), Philip Stainton (Sergeant MacDonald).
BW-91m. Letterboxed.

By Jeff Stafford
The Ladykillers (1955)

The Ladykillers (1955)

One of the most popular films produced by Ealing Studios during their peak years, The Ladykillers (1955) is a delightful black comedy that has aged much better than some of the other Ealing entertainments from the same period. For one thing, the clever script by William Rose (it was nominated for an Oscar) is so impeccably British, conjuring up a portrait of postwar London that is both idealized and satiric. And the central premise is hard to top. A gang of thieves, headed by Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness), takes two rooms at a boardinghouse run by the eccentric Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). Here they pretend to be a practicing string quartet as a cover for their true intention -- a security van robbery. Although the gang successfully carry off their heist, the criminals are eventually undone by their own greed and their various, unsuccessful attempts to murder their meddling landlady who remains oblivious to their crime -- or does she? According to the film's producer in his autobiography (Michael Balcon Presents...A Lifetime of Films), screenwriter William Rose "literally dreamed up The Ladykillers -- the germ of the idea came to him while he was asleep and at a time when he confessed that his brain was barren of ideas. He had been working at high pressure and felt creatively exhausted. Happily for us, he recalled the dream one day while talking with [director Alexander] "Sandy" MacKendrick, and so was born the story of the somewhat pixilated old lady getting involved in the doings of an extraordinary gang of crooks." The interesting thing about The Ladykillers, which is set in a precisely detailed world of English manners and tradition, is the fact that Rose was actually an American. He defected to Canada prior to World War II and joined the army there, later coming to England where he attempted to enter the film industry. He eventually went to work at Ealing where he worked on Genevieve (1953), Touch and Go (1955) and other features. While Rose is directly responsible for much of The Ladykillers's offbeat, macabre humor, the film also owes a great deal of its success to the brilliant comic performances of Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Peter Sellers and the excellent ensemble cast. In fact, Sellers was later quoted as saying, "The first real film I made was The Ladykillers. I can remember all of that very well. I used to watch Alec Guinness, who is an absolute idol of mine, do everything, his rehearsals, his scenes, everything. It was fascinating....Not that I could hope to be as good as Guinness. But he is my ideal...and my idol." Ironically, Guinness, who was an international star by the time he made The Ladykillers, was terribly insecure about his talent and even told director Alexander MacKendrick prior to filming The Ladykillers that he was too old for the part and recommended hiring another actor. Producer Balcon in his autobiography added that "Peter Sellers was much the same and it is interesting that they greatly admired one another. He made his first film for me with Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers and he was desperately anxious. He kept asking, 'Is it all right? Am I any good?'...the title was literal. The lady the gang were intent on doing away with was a dear little old actress, Kate Johnson, who had played lots of small parts in films. It was curious to see her accept her elevation to stardom quite calmly in her seventies while it was Sellers, still in his twenties, who was unsure of himself. Sadly, Katie Johnson's only big part was her last [she died two years later], but that is surely the way for a pro to go." Other cast members who would go on to greater fame and fortune after The Ladykillers were Kenneth Connor and Frankie Howard, who appeared in several popular Carry On comedies and, of course, Herbert Lom, who would team up with Peter Sellers years later, playing his nemesis in a series of Pink Panther films. The Ladykillers marked Alexander MacKendrick's final film for Ealing Studios; he soon departed for America where he would direct Sweet Smell of Success in 1957, a movie which was a complete departure from his forte -- British comedy. In 2004, the Coen Brothers remade The Ladykillers with Tom Hanks and moved the setting from London to Biloxi, Mississippi. Producer: Michael Balcon Director: Alexander MacKendrick Screenplay: William Rose Art Direction: Jim Morahan Cinematography: Otto Heller Editing: Jack Harris Music: Tristram Cary Cast: Alec Guinness (Professor Marcus), Cecil Parker (Maj. Courteney), Herbert Lom (Louis Harvey), Peter Sellers (Harry Robinson), Katie Johnson (Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce), Danny Green (One-Round), Frankie Howard (The Barrow Boy), Philip Stainton (Sergeant MacDonald). BW-91m. Letterboxed. By Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

The robbery at the beginning of the film took place in Cheney Street near its junction with Battle Bridge Road, immediately to the west of Kings Cross station.

The tunnel mouth is the south end of Copenhagen Tunnel, the second tunnel on the main line out of King's Cross station. There are real houses in the area, but the rear exterior of Mrs. Wilberforce's house is a set built in front of a blank wall. Exterior scenes at the front of the house were shot on Argyle Street, about 3/4 mile south (see goofs entry); the interiors are a studio set.

The producers originally rejected director Alexander Mackendrick's choice of 'Katie Johnson' for the role of Mrs. Wilberforce on the grounds that she might be too frail for the project, and so they cast a younger actress - who died before filming began.

The picture of Mrs. Wilberforce's late husband above the fireplace is actually a painting of Alec Guinness in his role as "The Admiral" in the earlier Ealing Studios comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1956

Re-released in Paris April 24, 1991.

Released in United States 1956