The Lady Killers
Classic British Comedy
If the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake of The Lady Killers served any purpose, it was to alert audiences unfamiliar with the 1955 original. The earlier Lady Killers was produced by Ealing Studios, which excelled during the ‘50s with droll English comedy. It was directed by Britain’s Alexander Mackendrick, shortly before heading for Hollywood to direct his classic, noirish expose of media megalomania, The Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Mackendrick’s The Lady Killers is out now on Blu-ray.
The brilliant original is an adept high-wire act tightly strung between English charm and murderously dark comedy. Starting with the urgent orchestral theme below the credits and continuing through the characters and dialogue, The Lady Killers is a spoof of American-style crime drama as well as a comedy of British manners. Superb and never overstated acting carries the story across the threshold of absurdity. Alec Guiness stars as a slightly mad criminal mastermind posing as a music professor who takes lodgings in the home of a sweet, dotty widow (Katie Johnson). The string quartet he directs is a cover for a gang of hardened but eccentric criminals, among them a young Peter Sellers a few years shy of international stardom.