Film / The Ladykillers

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"The Ladykillers'' is a 1955 British Black Comedy from Ealing Studios about a gang of criminals who rent a room from Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) in her lopsided house that sits above a railway tunnel. The gang consists of Herbert Lom as Louis Harvey, Danny Green as "One-Round" Lawson, Peter Sellers as Harry Robinson, Cecil Parker as "Major" Courtney and Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus. The gang attempt to commit a payroll robbery and use the house as a base, which proves harder than they think with Mrs. Wilberforce around.

The screenwriter, William Rose, who also wrote Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, claimed to have dreamed the whole film.

It was remade by the Coen Brothers in 2004, changing the base of operations to a house connected to a Mississippi riverboat's vault, and including a significant subplot about the old (now) black lady's ironic support of Bob Jones University. It also increases the violence far beyond what would have been acceptable when the original was made. It shares many tropes with the classic 1955 version.

A stage version premiered in England in 2012 based on the original, edited by Graham Linehan of Black Books and Father Ted. It received extremely positive reviews and featured an All-Star Cast, with Peter Capaldi as Marcus and Ben Miller as Louis.


Tropes common to both versions:

  • Anyone Can Die
  • British Teeth: Professors Marcus', which are thankfully not Guinness' natural chompers. And while Prof. Dorr is American, his teeth are also pretty askew.
  • The Caper
  • Cassandra Truth: When Mrs. Wilberforce/Mrs. Munson tries to return the money, the cops just don't believe her and tell her to keep it. It's heavily implied that they have been led astray before by listening to her.
  • Drawing Straws: The gang do this to determine which of them will do away with Mrs. Wilberforce/Ms. Munson. They use matchsticks in the 1955 version, and broom straws in the 2004 version.
  • Dumb Muscle: One-Round Lawson/Lump Hudson
  • Dwindling Party: The group becomes this while trying to rid of Ms. Wilberforce/Ms. Munson
  • Murder Is the Best Solution
  • A Simple Plan
  • Spanner in the Works
  • Stupid Crooks
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Mrs. Wilberforce/Munsen, though on a smaller scale. In the 1955 film, along with ruining the crooks' day she manages to make a barrow boy (pushcart vendor, for you Americans) and a taxi driver reconsider their careers.
  • Vehicle Roof Body Disposal: In the original film, the criminals dispose of the ever-accumulating bodies by dumping them on the freight trains that pass below the boarding house. In the 2004 remake, set on the Mississippi, the same but with a landfill barge.

The 1955 film contains examples of:

The 2004 film contains examples of:

  • Asian Store-Owner: The introduction to the General shows him rather brutally foiling a hold-up in his shop.
  • Black Dude Dies First: They all fall in quick succession, but Gawain is the first to go.
  • Blatant Lies: Prof. Dorr's utterly preposterous explanation for the money scattered about the cellar. Despite being perfectly credulous up to that point, Ms. Munson doesn't buy it.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Garth loses his finger while trying to demonstrate the stability of his explosives. "You could light this stuff on fire, hit it with a hamm-" BOOM!
  • Brawn Hilda: Garth's girlfriend, Mountain Girl.
  • Catch Phrase: Garth has "Easiest thing in the world." and "Trial balloon."
  • Chekhov's Gag: The General's cigarette and Garth's IBS.
  • The Convenient Store Next Door: The old lady's house.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: The picture of Mr. Munson (though it's more of a humorous changing painting). Its facial expression changes in reaction to the events around it (most obviously with an expression of surprise at an explosion, and a satisfied smirk at a Karmic Death).
  • Death by Irony:
    • While Garth's strangling isn't exactly ironic, Mountain Girl doesn't save him because she mistook his groans for his Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
    • The General dies in a rather convoluted chain of events after Ms. Munson's cuckoo clock scares him into swallowing his cigarette, which he always hid in his mouth because of Munson's disapproval.
    • Prof. Dorr. After prominently reciting Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," he dies when a real raven lands on the head of one of the bridge's gargoyle statues - which promptly breaks off and clonks Dorr in the head, knocking him off of the bridge.
  • Disney Villain Death: Dorr is conked on the head by a falling gargoyle head, which sends him over the railing of the bridge, where his coat gets caught on a hook and hangs him. Then his coat rips and he falls onto a garbage barge.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Professor Dorr thinks aloud as he tries to come up with an elaborate scheme to deal with a potential obstacle to their heist. Lump tries to interject with an idea, only to be silenced several times by Dorr. When he is finally allowed to speak, he asks "couldn't we just bribe the guy?" It works.
  • Dumb Is Good: Lump. Then again, he's too dumb to even be good at being good.
  • Dumb Jock: Lump Hudson. His Establishing Character Moment is what ends his football career.
  • Fingore: Garth Pancake blows his finger off in an accidental explosion. The film concludes with a cat spitting the finger in a trash barge in the river below.
  • Foreign Remake
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: The General to Lump, after Garth's demonstration goes wrong.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: When discussing what to do with Mrs. Munson.
    Professor G.H. Dorr: (to the General) You, sir, are a Buddhist. Is there not a "middle" way?
    The General: Mm. Must float like a leaf on the river of life... and kill old lady.
  • Impairment Shot: Several in the POV montage that both introduces Lump and explains why he's so... special.
  • Mugging the Monster: The General's establishing character moment is this (he's the monster).
  • Potty Emergency: *grunt* "IBS!" "You be what?"
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Prof. Dorr has far more words than sense.
  • Shout-Out: Boccherini's Minuet is played at one point when the gang are having a discussion.
  • Sir Swearsalot: Nearly all of the film's heavy profanity issues forth from Gawain. All cursing noticeably stops after he dies.
  • Southern Gentleman: Professor Dorr certainly has the look down pat.
  • Too Dumb to Live: All Dorr has to do is leave one chamber on his revolver empty, counting on poor Lump to look down the barrel and try again when it doesn't fire the first time. Lump doesn't let him down.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Gawain.

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