The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)


(director: Charles Crichton; screenwriter: T. E. B. Clarke; cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe; editor: Seth Holt; music: Georges Auric; cast: Alec Guinness (Henry Holland), Stanley Holloway (Alfred Pendlebury), Sidney James (Lackery), Alfie Bass (Shorty), Marjorie Fielding (Mrs. Chalk), John Salew (Parkin); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Balcon; Anchor Bay; 1951-UK)
The Cockney wit is outrageously funny.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Charles Crichton (“A Fish Called Wanda”/”The Titfield Thunderbolt”/”Hue and Cry”) directs this fine classic Ealing Studio comedy about bumbling crooks. T. E. B. Clarke adds a sharply humored script that earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Sir Alec Guinness received his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor.

Underpaid, dependable and meek bank transporter clerk in a gold bullion office for the last twenty years Henry Holland (Alec Guinness), concocts a wild scheme to rob his bank of over £1 million in bullion. He’s helped by his genteel amateur sculptor and manufacturer of paperweights friend, Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway). While planning the heist they run into two professional petty crooks, Lackery (Sidney James) and Shorty (Alfie Bass), and team up with the Cockneys. The plan calls for inside man Holland to help the pro crooks pull off the heist and have Pendlebury melt the gold bullion into souvenir models of the Eiffel Towers and ship them to Paris. Somehow the perfect crime goes south, as some British schoolgirls on holiday in Paris end up buying those grotesque souvenirs and this leaves the crooks stuck on how to recover them without being caught by the police. The plot also calls for an hilarious Keystone Cops chase scene through London traffic.

The Cockney wit is outrageously funny, as is the detailed observations of the leading characters. Film buffs should delight in noting that an uncredited Audrey Hepburn, before she was a star, appears in the early scene set in Rio in a bit part (warning: Don’t blink!).