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A great idea but only sporadically a great film - and StudioCanal have damagingly boosted the brightness on the Blu-ray
on 31 August 2010
Despite its great central conceit - that there is nothing deadlier than a harmless little old lady even when faced with a gang of homicidal crooks - it's not difficult to understand why The Ladykillers had such a tepid reception on its first release. The problem seems to be less script than the direction and the editing, neither comfortable with comedy - it's the kind of thing that a much less talented director that Alexander Mackendrick could have made a better job of by just standing out of the way and letting it happen. There also seems the hint of a bit of a barney between Mackendrick and Alec Guinness if the footage is anything to go by - he frequently cuts away from Guinness when you get the impression he's about to do something interesting, as if the director is getting his revenge on his star in the cutting room. Indeed, Guinness' entrance, which should be one of the biggest laughs in the picture, doesn't really come off because the director cuts away from the demonically seedy apparition - like Alastair Sim possessed by the devil - with undue haste. He seems to have little idea of how to stage comic set-pieces - the business with the horse, the taxi and the barrow boy seems awkward - and no real use for Peter Sellers, who is little more than a wardrobe and hairstyling joke. That the film still sporadically shines seems to be more to do with William Rose's script, which survives the oft-clumsy execution, so it is a shame that it is always referred to as `Sandy' Mackendrick's The Ladykillers, when it is really William Rose's The Ladykillers.
While StudioCanal's original Blu-ray release as part of their StudioCanal Collection in its limited edition hardcover book format had a plethora of extras (audio commentary, interviews with Ronald Harwood, Allan Scott and Terence Davies, introduction by Terry Gilliam, 50-minute documentary Forever Ealing and an excellent booklet), the subsequent Blu-ray release in its blue plastic Ealing Collection packaging is completely extras-free. Sadly the Blu-ray transfer is disappointing, with StudioCanal's fondness for boosting the brightness threatening out to bleach some details in faces and, most noticeably, Mrs Lopsided's striped top.