Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Lavender Hill Mob

A self described unimportant clerk, who escorts gold from the refinery to the bank for a living, dreams of ripping off his employers, but can never figure out how to smuggle the gold out of the England. Then one day inspiration strikes when a souvenir peddler moves into his flat: after ripping off the gold, they will melt it into molds of miniature Eiffel Towers to be shipped across to France. After baiting two hardened criminals to help them pull off the heist, the plan is now in motion. Now all they have in their way is a group of grade school girls on vacation in Paris. "The Lavender Hill Mob" is a hysterical and inventive product of the British Ealing film studio and features a very nice performance from Alec Guiness as the timid bank clerk. Directed by Charles Chrichton, who helmed "A Fish Called Wanda" some 36 years later, from an Oscar winning screenplay by T.E.B. Clarke, the film has many nice segments, particularly a winding descent down the Eiffel Tower staircase and an ingenious escape by Guinness and his partner in a cop car where they throw off their pursuers by way of radio. Just recently, I was saying how fellow Ealing alum Peter Sellers was so chameleonlike but it must be said that Alec Guiness never got tied down to the same role twice. Take his best known work: Herbert Pocket, Fagin, Henry Holland (here), Professor Marcus, Colonel Nicholson, Prince Feisal, Hitler, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Not one of those roles is even remotely similar. In an age when we are used to seeing stars play the same roles, it is a pleasure to be treated by Sir Alec to something different in each of his films and in a time when crime thrillers are usually routine and often humorless, it is a blast to see one that is so unique and hilarious.