The Lavender Hill Mob Review
This is an extract from a review of the sixteen-disc Ealing Collection set. The full review will be posted shortly.
If the finest film in this set, Kind Hearts And Coronets, begins with a man recalling his adventures in murder, so The Lavender Hill Mob opens with Henry Holland (Alec Guinness) in discussion with another about his time as a master criminal in London, albeit one with just the one job in mind. As the film heads back in time to London and Holland's planning of the job, we learn that he begins the film as a lowly employee of the Bank Of England and one who, with his unassuming nature, has been passed over for many a promotion. Without ever being rewarded for his many years of service, Holland decides, not on a whim but from hundreds of trips across the capital gazing at the palette of gold before him, to steal one million pounds of bullion. With the help of a sculptor Alfred Pendelbury (Stanley Holloway) and a couple of cockney thieves Lackery Wood and Shorty Fisher (Sid James and Alfie Bass, respectively), Holland hatches a brilliant plan. Firstly, they will, with the distraction of some bike-riding and street-painting, steal the gold, melt it down into souvenir Eiffel Towers and export it out of the country, where he and the rest of the gang will meet it in Paris. But a mix-up over a real shipment of souvenirs causes confusion and Holland's brilliant plan begins to fall apart. As his tale continues, the Lavender Hill mob chase the gold but appear doomed to fail.
Something of a companion piece to The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob is, however, a much gentler film indeed. But in spite of sharing much - Alec Guinness in the lead role, the placing of the story against a major heist and the plotting of the criminals within a boarding house run by a dear old woman - The Lavender Hill Mob is bright and breezy next to The Ladykillers' more sinister moments. It is also a film to enjoy despite being, in the company it keeps in this set, a very slight film with its small amount of social commentary kept at an arm's length and its crime drama being a blundering one, less concerned with murder than simply getting away with it. The much better The Ladykillers would limit such bumbling to a horse, a fruit'n'veg stall and Frankie Howerd but here, it takes up a good deal of the film. However,
The Lavender Hill Mob does contain a very fine performance from Alec Guinness - he was nominated for an Academy Award but lost to Gary Cooper for High Noon - albeit with less of the grandstanding that accompanied Kind Hearts And Coronets and The Man In The White Suit. Here, he's given a dull name, walks quietly through the film and even gazes upon the machinations of his criminal life with a look that might be described as passive. Even as he relaxes in a foreign hideaway, or so we're led to believe, he brings with him the dreary sound of the Clapham Junction tannoy and above his head one can imagine there being a little grey rain cloud amidst the blue skies of Spain, Morroco, Brazil or wherever it is that he has chosen to cease his flight. Whilst drawing attention to himself, albeit in the most understated way possible, he also gives the rest of the cast ample room to shine, particularly Alfie Bass and Sid James and there are some delightful cameos in the moments in which the film stops to draw breath. Perhaps not one of Ealing's finest, it is still a marvellous counterpoint to the more serious crime drama of The Blue Lamp. Although it is instructive that its setting and its better moments would make a slight return in The Ladykillers, the last film to be reviewed in this set.
When reviewing Optimum's two-disc release of Whisky Galore!, I wrote, "[it] is a glorious-looking film on this DVD, with an almost perfect transfer from Optimum. Noise is almost non-existent and the contrast in the picture is simply beautiful, with a very complementary sharpness to the image. It's a DVD like this that make you wonder if the move to colour was an altogether wise idea so well does the story, production and look of the film work in combination with one another." That's not strictly the case with these six discs although the very last statement is confirmed given how the five black-and-white films supplied look a good deal better than the colour The Ladykillers.
However, they don't look at all bad. Kind Hearts And Coronets probably looks the best and, given that I would imagine that Optimum have used the transfer of Whisky Galore from their earlier release, it will look equally good. However, Passport To Pimlico is disappointingly soft, perhaps in an attempt to disguise the condition of the print but which leaves it looking much less impressive than any of the other films in the set. Then again, none of the films have been restored particularly thoroughly with all of them, even Kind Hearts And Coronets, showing some obvious print damage. It's also worth saying, not that I mind though, that there's a fair amount of noise in the prints used, although it does look more as though it was present in the original prints than was generated through the transfer.
None of them have been gifted with the kind of transfer that Warner Brothers, for example, carry out with ease but they could have looked much, much worse. Except, that is, for The Ladykillers, which comes along looking like 'before' presentation in one of Warner's features on the restoration work that they carry out on the movies in their archives. With the colours not quite matching, objects have a soft halo about them and though the colours are perhaps too rich to look anything like real life, they do tend to look quite unbelievable. The effect is akin, though obviously not quite as extreme, to watching a 3D film without the glasses, with it looking much like the old release of The Wizard Of Oz than the restored two- or three-disc version. Though still watchable, it could have been so much better.
Given the age of each film, it won't be a surprise to learn that each film comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track, all of which aren't bad but do feature the occasional pop, click and bit of hissing. However, as one who doesn't object to the odd fault such as those, I thought them fine. In particular, there's a warmth about them, particularly Dead Of Night and Kind Hearts And Coronets, that's quite pleasing. The major oversight, given that these are Optimum releases, is that they do not come with subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD release.