Ladykillers, The (1955): Alec Guinness Shines in Eccentric Comedy

The Ladykillers, an eccentric British black comedy, was made by the famous Ealing Studios, under the helm of Alexander Mackendrick.

Starring Alec Guinness in one of his most famous roles, it is based on the script written by American William Rose, which received an Oscar nomination.

Mrs. Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) is an eccentric old widow who lives alone with her parrot in a “lopsided” house built over the railway tunnel in Kings Cross, London. With too much free time and active imagination, she is a frequent visitor to the police station, where she reports fanciful suspicions about the neighborhood but the officers don’t take her seriously.

Things change when she’s approached by the sinister Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness), who wants to rent rooms in her house, unaware that it’s for a gang of criminals, assembled for a security van robbery at King’s Cross Station. The group includes the con-man ‘Major’ Claude Courtney (Cecil Parker); the comedic Cockney spiv Harry Robinson (Peter Sellers); the slow-witted ex-boxer ‘One-Round’ Lawson (Danny Green); and the vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey (Herbert Lom).

The “Professor” claims that the group is an amateur string quintet needing space for rehearsal. To maintain the deception, the gangsters carry musical instruments and play a recording of Boccherini’s Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 No. 5.

After the heist, “Mrs. W” is deceived into retrieving the disguised “lolly” from the railway station herself. As the gang departs her house with the loot, ‘One-Round’ accidentally gets his cello case trapped in the front door, and the banknotes spill. Witnessing the accident, Mrs. Wilberforce informs Marcus that she is going to the police. The criminals decide to kill her, but since no one wants to do it, they draw lots using matchsticks. The Major loses but tries to make a run for it with the cash. They then cross, double-cross, and kill one another.

Finally with no one else left, Marcus is struck on the head by a railway semaphore signal over the tunnel and drops dead. All the bodies are dumped into railway wagons passing behind the house.

Mrs. Wilberforce goes to the police to return it but they do not believe her story, and tell her to keep the money. She is puzzled but finally relents and returns home.


Oscar Nominations: 1

Screenplay (Original): William Rose

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Original Screenplay Oscar was Albert Lamorisse for the wordless scenario of The Red Ballon.


Katie Johnson as Mrs Louisa Alexandra Wilberforce

Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus

Cecil Parker as Major Claude Courtney

Herbert Lom as Louis Harvey

Peter Sellers as Harry Robinson

Danny Green as ‘One-Round’ Lawson

Jack Warner as the police superintendent

Philip Stainton as the police sergeant

Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy