The Lavender Hill Mob


Reviewed by: James Benefield

Lavender Hill Mob
"The writing itself is heavily structured – after 20 minutes in, it's set piece after set piece. Yet the events never feels episodic or predictable." | Photo: Universal Pictures

The Lavender Hill Mob sees Alec Guinness revelling in his own evil creation, as few other actors could get away with.

Guinness plays Henry Holland, a well-dressed, seemingly meek individual supervising the through flow of gold bullion in a London bank. The job is the height of responsibility – and, to rub in how much butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, Holland spends his spare time reading to old ladies. However, after 20 years in the position (and living in a highly respectable boarding house in Lavender Hill, of all places), he finally finds accomplices for a crime which would see the embezzling of as much gold bullion as he can 'legitimately' take from his work place.

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The plan involves melting down the gold, reforming the molten matter into tourist tat and transporting the tat to Paris. Sadly, things don't go without a hitch, as the mob's contact at the Eiffel Tower accidentally sells the innocuous-looking souvenirs to a group of English school girls. As it continually evades their grasp, the chase is on to reclaim the booty from these girls before any suspicious are raised.

At the outset, it is suggested there are no consequences. The film begins in a South American location, with Holland dressed up to the nines, drink in hand, recalling the events of the film. Unlike his super-sinister role in The Ladykillers, Guinness's character here is a relatively amiable chap, and the whole thing does seem deliciously subversive and amoral. However, you know something isn't quite right, and it seems too perfect – largely because Guinness plays the whole thing with a glint in his eye. There are clues in the dialogue, but this helps bring the writing, which would quite happily shine and zing by itself, into the realm of genius.

The writing itself is heavily structured – after 20 minutes in, it's set piece after set piece. Yet the events never feels episodic or predictable. The film was written as a serious piece, and it shows in the considered, deliberate tone and subsequent gravitas positively dripping through the screen. Wisely, the writer realised the absurdity and darkly comic possibilities of the situations, and transformed it into a dark-hearted farce. This wry, irreverent tone is very English.

So, although perhaps not as wicked and amoral as The Ladykillers, or as immediately flashy in its concept as Passport To Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob is a perfect example of a tightly written, deceptively simple, Ealing comedy. And the performance of Alec Guinness is, as in several other of the Ealing comedies,the icing on this dark, rich cake.

Reviewed on: 20 Dec 2010
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A scheme to embezzle gold bullion goes awry in this classic black comedy.
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Director: Charles Crichton

Writer: TEB Clarke

Starring: Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sid James

Year: 1951

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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