When I first saw "The Ladykillers" in its supposed 'restored' state a few years back on DVD, I was a little under whelmed. It still seemed very washed out to me. But I'm thrilled to report that this February 2010 Studio Canal Collection BLU RAY completely changes that.
Given what they had to work with (a very corroded print covered in stuck-on hairs, fingerprints, scratch lines, blemishes in the negative, double-imaging of colour) - the result is little short of miraculous. It isn't picture-perfect for sure and some scenes still have corrosion and blocking in them, but mostly it's a massive improvement. Finally the BLU RAY format has brought out all that detailed restoration work - and it's the very best I've ever seen this beloved British classic look. The extras are superlative too - generous and hugely informative.
Country choices in set-up are: Australia, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Sweden, UK, USA and Japan
Overdubbed Languages are: French, German and Castellano (no subtitles available)
The Extras are:
1. Introduction by Terry Gilliam (a short & affectionate appraisal)
2. Commentary by Philip Kemp (a feature-length commentary by this noted expert that is full of superb detail and anecdotes - by far the best extra on here)
3. "Forever Ealing" Documentary (2002, voiced by Daniel Day-Lewis, features contributions from Colin Firth, John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and many others)
4. Interview With Allan Scott (Screenwriter/Producer, superb comments on MacKendrick's directing techniques, plot structures, uses of colour etc)
5. Cleaning Up "The Ladykillers" (original versus restored split screen shots - no dialogue)
6. Interview with Ronald Harwood (Screenwriter & friend of Alexander "Sandy" Mackendrick the Director)
7. Interview with Terence Davies (Director, Writer - talks of MacKendrick's classes on Filmmaking)
9. BD Live
The first time you 'really' see the improvement is when Mrs. Wilberforce hands in a basket at the local cop shop run by Jack Warner who placates her with wonderful gentility. And more too when the shadow of Alec Guinness addles up to her front door with 'danger' strings sounding - she opens it - and there he is - all sinister grin and grubby scarf. The colour is superb and hugely improved.
And then of course there's cast you couldn't buy now for love or money - each one a gem - the Classical String Quartet of thieves - Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker and the big lug Danny Green - each one absolutely necessary to the overall state of anarchy. There's even Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy.
But it's the perpetually making-tea old biddy played so brilliantly by Katie Johnson who steels the show. Like some perverse and malicious force of nature, Mrs. Wilberforce sweetly wanders through the entire film causing all sorts of mayhem and death and is blissfully unaware of it all. You find yourself chuckling uncontrollably all through the film and for days afterwards. Half the enjoyment of course is watching all of the boys thinking they're smarter than her and then after-a-while falling for her genuine British goodness - only to find that she kills them all (unintentionally of course)! The film also belongs just as much to Alec Guinness (who stepped in for Alistair Sims) the mastermind of the heist. He is just delicious - creepily brilliant as he slinks around Mrs. 'Lopsided' and her King's Cross St. Pancreas home. With a genuinely evil relish, he's all the time probing the unwitting old lady for holes he can use (dialogue above). Unbelievably good and it hasn't dated a jot either.
Did you know that Peter Sellers also does the voices of all the Parrots, or that Alec Guinness only found his Professor Marcus character through a set of protruding teeth and that because Katie Johnson was 79 when she took the part, Ealing were afraid that the role might actually kill the poor woman, so she had to be insured or she couldn't do the part (she stumped up the money herself). Well you do now - and you'll learn a whole lot more besides about this 1955 gem through this wonderful release.
When Mrs. Wilberforce asks in the local shop at the beginning of the movie "Has there been anything about the advertisement?" - I urge you to answer the call.
Treat yourself to "The Ladykillers" on BLU RAY - and then sit there with a big mug of tea and a digestive - tittering uncontrollably every few minutes at its sheer genius.
PS: for other superb restorations on BLU RAY, see also my reviews for "The Italian Job", "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner", "Zulu", "The Dambusters", "Quo Vadis", "North By Northwest", "Cool Hand Luke", "The Prisoner - The Complete (TV) Series In High Definition", "Goldfinger", "Braveheart", "Snatch", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "The African Queen"