Written by: William Rose
Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
Starring: Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker
- Theatrical trailer
- Guinness bio
Released by: Anchor Bay
My Advice: Own it.
Meet Mrs. Wilberforce (Johnson). She’s a kindly old lady who lives alone in a house at the end of a line by some train tracks. Nicest woman you’d ever want to meet–but she does get some rather crazy ideas, though…you know, about extraterrestrials and whatnot. She’s very easy to unsettle. Be that as it may, she’s leasing one of her rooms–and this draws the attention of Professor Marcus (Guinness), an intellectual who just so happens to be the leader of a string quintet. At least…that’s what Marcus tells Mrs. Wilberforce. He’s really a demented criminal mastermind who’s going to perform a daring heist–and use Mrs. Wilberforce as an integral part of his plan.
Guinness is particularly disturbed with his whacked out hair and teeth, yes, and gets much credit. However, the film works because of the believability of Mrs. Wilberforce herself; Katie Johnson gets very little play over this role–which makes no sense because she did win a BAFTA for it. If the audience doesn’t buy the fact that Mrs. W would not notice a quintet playing upstairs while three of the five musicians were downstairs–then the whole thing falls apart. But it’s never in question. Although the rest of the cast is quite effective, the next standout would be Herbert Lom–his tough guy hoodlum character is a nice change of pace for those of us who previously knew him only as Dreyfus.
Features on this thing are scant, but what they do have is nice. Sure, the Guinness bio is the same across all of the discs that comprised Anchor Bay’s recent Guinness boxed set–but reading it for the first time it’s nice, and you would only grow tired of it if you were dealing with the entire set at once. A true bonus, though, is the trailer for the film–Ealing Studio trailers are particularly twisted and fine. When normally trailers from this era of film history are
preserved only as cinematic curiosities or as something to be snickered about–this trailer is so smart you’d be hard pressed to find one as effective in this day and age.
I really don’t know what else could be done on this disc. We’ve lost Sellers, Guinness and both the writer and scribe. Herbert Lom is the only living member of the main ensemble, so an interview with him while we still have him would be nice, I suppose. And since the Ealing comedies are so well remembered, perhaps a featurette on their work and the work’s staying power would have been nice to have too.
Fact of the matter is, this is as good as it’s going to get–and it’s damn funny to boot. I’d say plonk down the coin, because this is a classic and it remains funny even after repeating viewing. Klong!