The StudioCanal Collection via Lionsgate presents Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers in a deluxe Blu-ray ray edition with all the trimmings. Describing The Ladykillers is somewhat of a curious task. Up until now, I only ever knew about the film, because of the high profile remake several years ago that bombed severely. Then the original film was slated to make its Blu-ray debut in a nice deluxe restored edition. Of course this happened in Europe first so we had to wait a little bit before Lionsgate was to distribute the film in the U.S.
First things first, The Ladykillers is not a traditional comedy by any means. The Ladykillers is a very, very DARK comedy. If it weren’t for the minimal use of slapstick or humor, one could call it a thriller. In my opinion, that’s what makes the movie great. Katie Johnson plays the spry and oblivious widow Mrs. Wilberforce. Sir Alec Guiness, in what could be described a “Man Who Laughs” impression, false teeth and all, plays “Professor” Marcus. Can you say uber creepy? From the moment we see him onscreen we know he’s up to no good. One of my favorite scenes in the whole film is the actual lead up to him knocking on the door. You’d think that you were watching a thriller, because even the music cues take on a feeling of dread. Fantastic.
More characters are introduced as the tale continues. These characters include: The Major, One-Round, Louis, and Harry. Harry is played by Peter Sellers before he gained world fame. In fact, he’s just a supporting character in this film. The Professor and his goons rent out a room in Mrs. Wilberforce’s house so they can plan a robbery. Of course where’s the fun if Mrs. Wilberforce doesn’t start to be the inquisitive one? I think that’s why the film works so well. There’s evil all around Mrs. Wilberforce, she’s oblivious to it all, that we start to root for her.
It’s not until the third act where most things fall apart; the acting chops really start to kick in. When Mrs. Wilberforce finally comes to the realization that she’s been duped, her facial expressions are priceless. At that point she learns that she must fight fire with fire.
The Ladykillers is a film that’s been infused with many different genres. It’s a gumbo, if you will. It’s got bits of noir, slapstick, thriller, comedy, dark humor, etc… In someone’s not so cable hands, this would be a disaster, but director Alexander Mackendrick weaves it seamlessly. For those who are newbies to classic British film, The Ladykillers is the perfect film to get it started on. Oi!
The Ladykillers is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. For those with a widescreen television, you will notice black pillars on the sides. This is a full screen presentation. The film is in 1080p via an AVC encode. Grain is ever present throughout the film, but this isn’t a bad thing since it’s not intrusive. It’s a charming thing. Now where you may or may not get into a debate is color and color separation. Colors don’t necessarily “pop” where one would expect them too. Whether this was intentional or a result of the restoration, I don’t know. What I do know is that the colors give off an almost pastel painting sort of look. Personally, I think it’s great. It’s not slick by any means. There are several, but minor, instances of slight dirt, specks, and the occasional line. That observation leads me to believe that the film was not DNR’d to hell and back. The film is not soft, but has retained an adequate level of sharpness. Unless Criterion gets their hands on this, this is the best that The Ladykillers has ever looked.
The Ladykillers is presented in DTS HD-MA 2.0. The sound field is suitable. Considering it’s a nearly sixty-year-old film, one would think that this would be a disaster. It is not. Sound clarity comes off clean, crisp, and balanced. The music score, sometimes ominous, sometimes playful, does not overpower the dialogue. Again, for a film of this age, a lossless 2.0 mix delivers.
The Ladykillers comes stocked with a bevy of supplements for your viewing pleasure. These featurettes, interviews, documentaries are presented in SD. If it weren’t for the fact that there’s lots of them, I would have given it a lower grade. In essence, this is a fully loaded package. All on one disc, too.
- Introduction by Terry Gilliam (SD) – Terry Gilliam talks about why he likes the film so much. Don’t watch this befor the film, wait until after as I had some of the same thoughts he did when I finished the film. That and it may contain possible spoilers.
- Filmed Interviews with Allan Scott, Terence Davies and Ronald Harwood (SD) – 3 great interviews by people who once worked with the director Alexander Mackendrick.
- Audio Commentary with Ealing Expert Phil Kemp
- “Forever Ealing” Documentary (SD) – Narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis, explores the history of the once great Ealing studios who were once the MGM of England. The Ladykillers was to be their last production.
- “Cleaning Up The Ladykillers” (SD) – This is a restoration featurette that shows the before and after comparisons. You may not notice at first, but if you take a closer look, you can see that the old damaged print actually had flairs. It’s as if the film was on fire. Fascinating stuff.
- Interview with James Mangold (SD) – James Mangold talks about The Ladykillers.
- Trailer (SD) – Whimsical but cheesy old school trailer of The Ladykillers.
The Ladykillers may not be everyone’s cup of proverbial tea, but it gets it done and makes no apologies. Some times a dark and sinister tale, other times a bungled caper crime comedy; and it all works! Students of film and even veterans of film will be in store for a charming treat. A stellar cast, production values (for the time) and a serious yet not so serious tone should make for a breezy 92-minute romp. The Blu-ray gets it right. I love discovering classic films for the first time.
Bring home The Ladykillers today on Blu-ray!