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Film / The Lavender Hill Mob

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The Lavender Hill Mob is a 1951 Ealing Studios crime comedy film, directed by Charles Crichton and starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway.

Henry Holland (Guinness) is a London bank clerk in charge of refining and delivering gold bullion. One day a frustrated artist, Alfred Pendlebury (Holloway), moves in to Holland's rooming house. Pendlebury would like to be a serious artist, but currently has a less inspiring job creating tourist trinkets—including lead paperweights shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Holland, seeing that Pendlebury has smelting equipment just like the bank does, hits on the idea of stealing the bullion from his bank, smelting it into Eiffel Tower figurines, and shipping said figurines out of England to be sold on the black market. Of course, something goes wrong.

The Lavender Hill Mob won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Nearly 40 years after this film, Charles Crichton would direct A Fish Called Wanda, another comedy about a heist that goes wrong. Look for a brief appearance by none other than Audrey Hepburn, prior to her Star-Making Role in Roman Holiday, as Holland's Brazilian girlfriend.

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Tropes:

  • All for Nothing: Holland gets away with only six gold Eiffel Towers, spends all the money from said towers in Rio, and is arrested.
  • Armed Blag: A good example of the peculiarly British "rob an armored car" crime film.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Holland is arrested, will be tried for the robbery and probably spend a long time in jail but he did at least get to briefly live the life of luxury he never would have attained by honest means.
  • The Caper: Pend car carrying gold bullion!
  • Contrived Coincidence: The one schoolgirl who declines to sell her miniature Eiffel tower (which has loot from the robbery hidden inside of it) back to Holland and Pendlebury gives her tower to a friend who's a cop, leading to the caper's ruination.
  • Cool Old Lady: One of Holland and Pendlebury's neighbors is a demure-looking older woman whose favorite conversation topic is the plots of the pulp crime novels she reads. She thoroughly confuses two London policemen by peppering her speech with the slang she has picked up from her taste in books.
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  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Shorty lights a cigarette from the crucible in Pendlebury's workshop.
  • Covers Always Lie: Video releases of this film have heavily promoted the fact that Audrey Hepburn's in it, even though she has exactly one line.
  • Dramatic Irony: Pendlebury indignantly shouts "I am not a thief!" at the police station, having been falsely accused of shoplifting a cheap painting while the big robbery is happening.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Holland sees Pendlebury's smelter and instantly hits on his scheme.
  • Finagle's Law: In full flow once Holland and Pendlebury realise six of the solid gold paperweights have inadvertently been sold to a party of schoolgirls at the top of the Eiffel Tower. They try to catch the schoolgirls before they get to the lift, but the doors close ahead of them, so they take a set of emergency stairs down to the ground, by which time they are too dizzy to intercept the schoolgirls' car before it leaves. So they hail a taxi to follow the car to the railway station, but by the time they get to the platform, the train has gone. They head to Calais in an attempt to intercept the ferry the schoolgirls are taking back to England, but the guard ignores their insistence that they're not actually travelling and won't let them board until they buy tickets (and insists they use the entrance instead of going back in through the exit)... and have their passports stamped... and have their bags inspected by customs... and hand over their foreign currency... by which time the boat has departed.
  • Framing Device: The film begins and ends with Holland relaxing in a restaurant in Rio, telling the story of the robbery to a fellow Englishman.
  • How We Got Here: Opens with Holland in Rio, having fled there after the robbery.
  • Inside Job: A meek bank clerk who oversees the shipment of bullion joins with an eccentric neighbour to steal gold bars and smuggle them out of the country as miniature Eiffel Towers.
  • Laughing Mad: As Holland and Pendlebury race down the Eiffel Tower to get the gold that was mistakenly shipped away, they both spontaneously break out laughing from both the absurdity and joy of the situation mixed with the sheer dizziness from running in circles down the stairs.
  • Lost in Translation: In an in-universe example, Pendlebury has told the Paris warehouse that the boxes with an R on them are not intended for sale. Unfortunately, to a French ear, the non-rhotic British "R" sounds like "Ah", so they assume that he instead means boxes with an A on them are not intended for sale, leading to the accidental sale of six of the solid gold Eiffel Tower paperweights.
  • Make It Look Like a Struggle: Holland wants Lackery and Shorty to tie him up and rough him up to make the robbery look convincing. However, they have to flee as the police approach, having only had time to bind, gag and blindfold him. Holland has to finish the job by rolling in the dust, tearing his clothes on a hook, and falling in the river (which was definitely not part of the plan).
  • Oh, Crap!: Holland has difficulty hiding his dismay when his boss at the bank decides to promote him to a desk job right as he is forming his plan to steal one of the gold shipments he travels with.
  • Parody: The car chase scene is a parody of the serious one at the climax of Ealing's earlier film The Blue Lamp.
  • Staging the Eavesdrop: Holland and Pendlebury publicly discuss that they left the safe open. They wait in the building at night, and when thieves break in, they recruit them into their criminal scheme.
  • Title Drop: "The Lavender Hill Mob" is the name under which Holland reserves a room for him and his fellow thieves to party after successfully robbing the bullion.
  • Tropical Epilogue: Amusingly subverted. The Rio de Janeiro Framing Device ends with Holland finishing his story, telling the Englishman he's been chatting with that he sold the six paperweights for £25,000 and has spent the money. Then they get up from the table together and the film reveals that Holland is handcuffed to the man he's been sitting with.
  • Villain Protagonist: Holland is a fairly sympathetic character to be sure but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s masterminding a gold robbery.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lackery and Shorty are never seen after they decide not to help pick up the stolen gold from Pendlebury's warehouse, leaving it unknown whether they are exposed and arrested like Pendlebury.

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