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| With: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner, Katie Johnson, Philip Stainton, Frankie Howerd |
| Written by: William Rose |
| Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick |
| MPAA Rating: Not Rated |
| Running Time: 92 |
| Date: 08/12/1955 |
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By Jeffrey M. Anderson Two years later, Alec Guinness would win a Best Actor Oscar, but here in 1955, audiences could enjoy him running around wearing a set of funny fake teeth. He plays "Professor" Marcus, who rents a room from a nice old lady (Katie Johnson). He tells her that he has formed an amateur musical group and that his tough-looking colleagues -- Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), Mr. Harvey (Herbert Lom), Mr. Robinson (a young Peter Sellers), and the bruiser "One-Round" (Danny Green) -- will be coming over for practice. In reality, they're bank robbers using the room and their music practice as cover. Unfortunately, a mishap tips the old lady to their deeds and they decide to bump her off. This proves far more difficult than anyone could have anticipated, however.
The repeated, centerpiece image of the film has two of the thugs dumping the body of a third from a bridge to a train yard down below, each one holding a leg until the train comes along to eradicate the evidence. As directed in a kind of damp, gray color palette by Alexander Mackendrick (The Man in the White Suit, Sweet Smell of Success) the film is one of the richest and most carefully-paced of the Ealing comedies. It's also one of the most interestingly enclosed; the sets are realistic and rustic, but very deliberately placed and creatively used. It's not my absolute favorite of the Ealing films, but it's delightfully deadpan and still hilarious. In 2004, Joel and Ethan Coen unsuccessfully tried to remake it.
Blu-Ray Details: Lionsgate has picked up the Blu-Ray rights for this movie, and it looks amazing. The box claims that the film is mastered in 1.33:1 (or full screen), but on my TV, it looks closer to the real 1.66:1. Extras include an introduction by Terry Gilliam, a commentary track by "Ealing expert" Phil Kemp, a documentary on Ealing, an interview with screenwriter Ronald Harwood, an interview with Allan Scott, and a trailer. Hardly any of these extras are in high-def. Audio is available in English, Spanish or French, and there are French and Spanish subtitles, but no English subtitles (and no closed captioning). There's also a liner notes essay by critic/historian David Parkinson. The box advertises interviews with filmmakers James Mangold and Terrence Davies, but I was unable to find them (unless they are on the "BD Live" section, which I do not have hooked up yet).