Film / The Ladykillers
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. The remake's cast includes Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J. K. Simmons, and Ryan Hurst.

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: By the end of the film, the old lady is the last person standing.
  • British Teeth: Professor Marcus', which are thankfully not Guinness' natural chompers. And while Prof. Dorr is American, his teeth are also pretty askew.
  • The Cameo:
    • (2004) Yep, that's Bruce Campbell as the Humane Society rep.
    • Frankie Howerd is in the 1955 film as a barrow boy whose day is inadvertently ruined by Mrs. Wilberforce.
  • 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: Being an incredibly annoying and persnickety landlady? Kill the old woman! Obviously there is also the practical reason of the chances of her becoming a witness, but by the point they propose it she has annoyed every single member of the gang.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: In both versions the heist itself works perfectly; what happens afterward, on the other hand...
  • A Simple Plan: The more complicated plan (the theft) goes off without a hitch. The simple plan is killing the annoying old woman in the house.
  • Spanner in the Works: The old woman, regardless of version, is so annoying that the gang eventually decides to kill her. They all die trying.
  • Stupid Crooks: Even the Professor, the criminal mastermind of the crew, is not really all there in terms of intelligence — he's just better at using big words and being intellectually fancy.
  • 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:

  • Accidental Truth: Professor Marcus claims that if Mrs. Wilberforce went to the police they wouldn't want the money back. They don't, but not for the reasons he claimed.
  • A Rare Sentence: "Give the parrot his medicine!"
  • Armed Blag: The gang hold up an armored van transporting a large quantity of cash.
  • Ax-Crazy
  • Berserk Button:
    • Professor Marcus tends to flip when called 'crazy'. This is usually accompanied by an over-the-top crescendo of epic proportions from the score, and tell-tale looks of expectant horror on the faces of the gang. Luckily, something usually happens to interrupt Marcus.
    • Don't call One-Round stupid.
  • Bizarrchitecture: A mild sort— the house's foundation has subsided due to bombing during the London Blitz. Pictures never hang right, and it seems to have screwed up the grandfather clock too.
  • Classical Music: The gang pose as a string quintet.
  • Clock King: Professor Marcus has it timed down to the moment how long it will take to do the heist and how long it will take for Mrs. Wilberforce to retrieve the trunk, however, he couldn't plan for Mrs. Wilberforce herself.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mrs Wilberforce
  • Delinquent: Harry's a slangy Teddy Boy.
  • Driver of a Black Cab: Mrs. Wilberforce accidentally drives one out of business.
  • The Edwardian Era: The good old days for Mrs. Wilberforce.
  • Exact Words: When Mrs. Wilberforce asks One-Round where he learned to play the cello (which he had only been pretending to play), he truthfully replies that he "just sorta... picked it up".
  • The '50s: But in that extremely unglamorous British way.
  • Gentle Giant: "One-Round" Lawson.
  • Giggling Villain: After Major Courtney's fall from the roof:
    Professor: Is he hurt? (giggles)
    Louis: (deadpan) I shouldn't think he felt a thing.
  • Leitmotif: Boccherini's Minuet, which the gang pretend to play.
  • London Gangster: Not the most extreme example, but definitely one of the most eccentric.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Even grocers and cabbies aren't safe from the unintentional wrath of Mrs. Wilberforce.
  • No One Is Indispensable: Professor Marcus says this to Louis, very truly.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Mrs. Wilberforce.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now!
  • Pet the Dog: One Round and Mrs. Wilberforce.
  • Pirate Parrot: The late Captain Wilberforce wasn't in the least piratical, but he was a nautical man and this is reflected in the vocabulary of his parrots. "Squawk! Swab the deck!"
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangster: Louis is continental, and is the first one to suggest killing Mrs. Wilberforce outright.
  • Sanity Slippage: Professor Marcus at the end. After his plan has totally been fooled, Louis calling him "crazy" for the second time is the last straw.
  • Scarf of Asskicking: Professor Marcus is a very subtle example of this trope.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The picture of Captain Wilberforce is Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne from Kind Hearts and Coronets.
    • Alec Guiness' performance is essentially aping fellow actor Alastair Sim (best known as Scrooge in the 1951 film), the role having allegedly been written for Sim in the first place.
  • Slasher Smile: Professor Marcus.
  • Smoking Is Cool: After all, it is the Fifties.
  • Spot of Tea: Mrs. Wilberforce interrupts the gang with offers of the drink and has elderly friends over for nice cuppas.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: "Major, Major, Major... CALM DOWN!"
  • That Syncing Feeling: Even when only Louis is upstairs and everyone else is busy trying to catch the parrot, the record still sounds like a full quintet is playing; after it starts skipping, Louis takes it off the table, looks at it wistfully for a moment, and shatters it. Mrs. Wilberforce, naturally, is too dotty to ever notice.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Purely by accident.
  • Wicked Cultured: Professor Marcus.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Professor Marcus outright asks this.
  • Windmill Crusader: Mrs. Wilberforce

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.
  • Crime Concealing Hobby: Professor Dorr renting out an old lady's basement so he and his friends can practice classical music. In fact, they're digging a tunnel to rob a nearby casino vault, playing recorded music to mask the sounds of their work. While Dorr is Wicked Cultured and likely is a musical enthusiast, the rest of the crew... aren't.
  • 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.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: At the beginning, when Mrs. Munson is complaining to the police about hip hop music:
    Munson: And, Sheriff, do you know what they call colored folks in them songs? Have you got any idea?
    Sheriff: No, ma'am, I don't think...
    Munson: Niggers! I don't even want to say the word. Now, I won't say it twice, I can tell you that. I say it one time, in the course of swearin' down my complaint. Niggers!
  • 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.