Lavendar Hill Mob, The (1952): Crichton’s Comedy, Starring Alec Guinness in Oscar Nominated Performance

Charles Crichton’s “The Lavender Hill Mob,” a sharply observed, quite hilarious crime comedy, made the Oscar-nominated Alec Guinness a star in the United States, and won the Best Story and Screenplay for T.E..B. Clarke.

“Lavendar Hill Mob” represented the best achievement of the famous Ealing Studios.

Alec Guinness plays a meek transporter, who after 20 years of service, decides to steal one million pounds.To achieve his goal, he enlists Pendlebury (played by Stanley Holloway), a friend who’s a paper manufacturer and a sculptor too.

The film boasts some of the best comic actors in England, including Sidney Tafler, Peter Bull, and John Gregson. You can also spot in small parts the very young Audrey Hepburn and Robert Shaw.

The film’s title refers to Lavender Hill, a street ina district of South London, near to Clapham Junction railway station.

Detailed Plot

The tale starts and ends in Brazil.  When the film begins, Henry Holland (Alec Guinness) is having dinner with a fellow Brit in an elegant restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.  How did he get there?  Using his famous storytelling skills, Guinness proceeds to tell his eager listener his rich and curious past in utmost detail.

An unambitious London bank clerk, in charge of gold bullion deliveries for decades, Henry was known for his dedication to his job.  The inside knowledge enabled him to devise the “perfect” plot to steal a bullion, though he realized that selling the gold on the black market in London was too risky.

One evening, a new lodger, an artist Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), arrived at the boarding house in Lavender Hill. Pendlebury owned a foundry that made presents, sold in foreign resorts. After meeting Pendlebury, Holland decides that the ideal way of smuggling the gold would be as Eiffel Tower paperweights, to be sold in Paris.

The couple moves into action, recruiting petty crooks, Lackery Wood (Sidney James) and Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass). The clever plan succeeds: Wood and Fisher carry out the hijack of the bullion van and switch the gold to Pendlebury’s van.

The police are unable to track down the “master criminal,” who, assisted by his team, melts the gold in Pendlebury’s foundry and exports it to France disguised as miniature Eiffel Towers.  However, the plan goes wrong, when the woman running the Parisian souvenir kiosk misunderstands the instructions due to language mix-up. Instead of holding back the marked box of Eiffel Towers, she sells them.When Pendlebury and Holland arrive, using the names of “Al” and “Dutch,” they discover that six of the towers have been sold to British schoolgirls. A wild chase to the Channel ferry follows, but encounter with the customs prevents them from getting to the ship in time.

Pendlebury and Holland track down the schoolgirls and, in exchange for a similar tower and ten shillings, they recover the loot. One girl, however, refuses to return hers, intending to give it to her cop friend, who is at an exhibition of police methods at Hendon Police College.

Also attending is an inspector investigating the robbery. While checking out Pendlebury’s foundry, he is told that souvenirs bought in foreign places are made in Britain.  Another pursuit takes place, this time through London, with Holland using the radio in the police car to give false descriptions of the crooks’ vehicle. Eventually, an officer stops their car and arrests Pendlebury. Holland escapes to Rio with the six gold towers, spending it on his luxurious lifestyle.  By the time he finishes telling the story, Holland is handcuffed to his countryman.

Oscar Context

Alec Guinness lost the Best Actor Oscar to Gary Cooper (“High Noon”).

He would win the award in 1957 for David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Quai.”