Directed by Charles Crichton, who would much later direct John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda (1988), 1951's The Lavender Hill Mob is the most ruefully thrilling of the Ealing Comedies. Alec Guinness plays a bowler-hatted escort of bullion to the refineries. His seeming timidity, weak 'r's and punctiliousness mask a typically Guinness-like patient cunning. "I was aware I was widiculed but that was pwecisely the effect I was stwiving to achieve". He's actually plotting a heist. With more conventionally cockney villains Sid James and Alfie Bass in tow, as well as the... respectable but ruined Stanley Holloway, Guinness' perfect criminal plan works in exquisite detail, then unravels just as exquisitely, culminating in a nail-biting police car chase in which you can't help rooting for the villains. The Lavender Hill Mob depicts a London still up to its knees in rubble from World War II, a world of new hope but continued austerity, a budding new order in which everything seems up for grabs; as such it could be regarded as a lighter hearted cinematic cousin to Carol Reed's 1949 masterpiece The Third Man. The Lavender Hill Mob also sees the first, fleeting on-screen appearance of Audrey Hepburn in the opening sequence. --David Stubbs [show more]
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