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'It shouldn't have done that... ',
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This review is from: Ealing Comedy DVD Collection - The Ladykillers/Kind Hearts and Coronets/The Lavender Hill Mob/The Man in the White Suit  (DVD)
The phrase 'Ealing Comedy' is so well known, there's a danger of taking these four fine examples for granted. They may have appeared on T.V. many times before, but now with DVD we get the chance to see them in excellent picture quality and without the interminable commercial breaks of television. It's stating the obvious, but these are (relatively) short films which were meant to be seen at one sitting, without breaks disrupting continuity.
Of the four, Kind Hearts and Coronets is probably the most famous, as Alec Guinness famously plays the parts of eight characters. But there is an equally wonderful performance from Dennis Price, as an aggrieved member of the D'Ascoyne family who sets about killing off the eight others who stand in his way to the top of the family tree. It's Price's cool, dispassionate manner that adds the edge to the story. The parts played by Guinness vary considerably in character (and sex!), and Guinness is chameleon-like in the way he fits each part. The story itself is a cracker, with a couple of twists along the way.
The Ladykillers was, most unusually for a 1950's British film, shot in colour. It was also largely filmed on location close to King's Cross Station, so providing some fascinating glimpses of the area in the post-war period. Guinness plays 'The Professor', the mastermind of a robbery at the station, and Katie Johnson-then 77!- plays the landlady whose house Guinness and his gang use as their base. When she discovers who they are, they decide to kill her, and that's when the fun begins... The location (Ealing built the set above the entrance to Copenhagen railway tunnel, just north of Kings's Cross Station), really adds to the atmosphere; the little house is often shrouded in steam and smoke, and the clanking of trains is a constant backcloth. Oh, and a railway signal (the old semaphore type) performs a function unique in cinema, in my experience.
The Lavender Hill Mob is perhaps more conventional Ealing; a timid bank clerk (Guinness..) teams up with the amiable and extrovert Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) to rob his employers of bullion. Getting rid of the bullion is solved neatly by using Holloway's foundry. But then of course something goes wrong...
The outright masterpiece in this collection, though, is The Man in the White Suit. If you just read a plot summary, say 'a scientist invents a fabric which never wears out-workers and management are horrified..', it doesn't remotely do justice to what follows. Guinness (yet again) plays the misunderstood inventor, but the film is peppered with so many interesting characters-nervy laboratory assistants, an elderly washerwoman trying to make ends meet, a small girl who helps Guinness along the way, sinister industry mogul summoned from London (Ernest Thesiger)...the total really is far more than the sum of its parts. It's all filmed against a backcloth of a Lancashire mill town (I've always wondered-which one?) and the director Alexander Mackendrick keeps the film moving with a pace not quite matched in any of the other three. Not a single shot is wasted.
Above all, these are films about characters;there are many humorous, and some hilarious, moments, but it's the huge variety of people in these movies that makes you want to watch them again. They are the perfect antidote to 'special-effects' films.
Here, the people count.