March 3, 2010


The most underrated facet and best aspect of the Blu-ray revolution is seeing a classic film in a great 1080p transfer. The pleasures of a modern films transferred to the format is almost redundant as few modern films on Blu-ray look anything less than pristine. But you get a classic color movie, and it’s the one that’s going to benefit the most from the clearer picture, if the quality in the transfer is there. So seeing Alec Guiness, Hebert Lom and Peter Sellers playing bank robbers whose greatest foe is an elderly lady (Katie Johnson) in a classic Ealing black comedy is one of the better Blu-ray experiences. My review of the Alexander Mackendrick triumph The Ladykillers after the jump.

ladykillers_criterion_blu-ray_cover_art_01.jpgThe premise of the film is that Alec Guiness’s Professor Marcus needs a perfect location to spot his heist and rents a room from the old lady (Johnson). He brings in Claude/Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), Louis/Mr. Harvey (Lom), One-Round/Mr. Lawson (Danny Green) and Harry/Mr. Robinson (Sellers) to help him do the job, but for the old lady, they are just practicing their quintent of string instruments. Of course they spend their time with a record going and plotting, but every time the old lady comes up, they dive back to their instruments. Their plan goes off brilliantly, but there’s one hitch: the old lady finds out too much, and so the boys plot her demise, to no great avail.

For a generation of fans who grew up with him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and familiar with his turns in Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai, to find Guiness in the Ealing comedies opens a facet of his career that is breathtaking, much as it is or will be for prequel fans finding Ewan McGregor’s more saucy earlier films. Guiness has such excellent comic timing, and with this and his turn in The Horse’s Mouth he has one of the great acting careers, and to that sense he seems horribly underrated as a performer. And here you get to see him playing against Sellers, who just figuring out how to do his comedy on the big screen, but delivers a solid supporting turn. And Herbert Lom, an ace of a performer best known for playing Sellers’s foil in the Pink Panther movies, gets a chance to show what a good character actor he was, able to generate so much with scant screen time.

But it’s also worth championing the director, Mackendrick, as this is one of his best films, and he shows a masters pacing with the comedy. Mackendrick’s one of those directors that celebrated by his fans but hasn’t really achieved the cult following of England, it seems, though his work with this, Sweet Smell of Success and Whisky Galore! suggests a minor master.

And on Blu-ray it’s great to see an old color film look this good. Of course, it’s not going to have the same image clarity as a modern release, but the colors and sharpness are unparalleled. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray is easily the best home video release of this title, and second only to a pristine print. The film comes in full frame (1.33:1) and in DTS-HD 2.0 mono soundtrack. Crisp is the word. Extras include an introduction by Terry Gilliam (3 min.), and a commentary by film scholar Philip Kemp. The disc has a wealth of extras, including the documentary “Forever Ealing” (50 min.), which celebrates the studio with words from Gilliam, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, Collin Firth, Douglas Slocombe, Stephen Fears, and others. There’s an interview with screenwriter/producer Allan Scott (11 min.), Screenwriter Ronald Harwood (7 min.) – who worked with Mackendrick – and director and student of Mackendrick Terrence Davies (14 min.). Then there’s a featurette on the restoration (6 min.), and the film’s theatrical trailer.


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