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the lavender hill mob
(1951)

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      the lavender
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c h a r l e s   c r i c h t o n ' s  :  c l a s s i c  ]


"The Lavender Hill Mob is being shown on TV...If only
I had received 1 each time one of the Ealing comedies
was shown I would be a rich man."

- Alec Guinness


alec guinness' views on
credits | making | books | dvds | videos
the lavender hill mob
georges auric | michael balcon
alec guinness | audrey hepburn | stanley holloway
sidney james | kind hearts and coronets


lavender



    credits

    directed:

      Charles Crichton, 1951

    produced:

      Michael Truman

    running time:

      82 minutes, B&W

    scr:

      T.E.B. Clarke

    phot:

      Douglas Slocombe

    mus:


    main cast:


    oscar (1952):

    • best screenplay


    oscar nominations:


lavender

making

    The great charm of the Ealing Comedies (of which this, I suggest, is the most enduringly popular) is that they were insular without being parochial. The story of a meek, middle-aged bank messenger (Alec Guinness, who plans and pulls off a 3,000,000 bullion robbery, is constructed as to be essentially English. Of course, it could be transposed to New York, Paris or any other city you care to name, but it would lose a lot in the translation (check out the remake of that other Ealing classic, The Ladykillers, with Tom Hanks, and you'll see what I mean). Somehow it needs London and the particular characters assembled in 'the mob': Guinness's archetypal bank clerk, Stanley Holloway's genteel second in command, Sidney James's and Alfie Bass's half-smart Cockney wide boys - their direct equivalents are not to be found anywhere else.

    And yet, having admitted the insularity, one must also acknowledge the universality of the tale. It's the little man's, Everyman's, dream of how to get rich quick, the perfect crime in which nobody is hurt and, in a way, nobody is the loser except, alas, the mob themselves. The cinema morality of the time, which insisted sternly that crime must not seen to pay, gave the film its bitter-sweet ending. It's a neat enough pay-off but it's not the ending the audience wants, for by the time it arrives we know these people so well and like them so much that we are desperate for them to get away with it. If the movie was made today, they would and we would like them no less for their triumph than we did for their failure. After all, consider another crime caper, A Fish Called Wanda, which the same director, Charles Crichton) made thirty-seven years later. In this John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis fly off happily with their ill-gotten loot - and our complete approval - to much the same part of South America from which Guinness was returned in handcuffs.

    Incidentally, in The Lavender Hill Mob's early South American scenes you may recognise a little-known starlet named Audrey Hepburn. I wonder whatever became of her?


trivia

    Writer T.E.B. Clarke got the idea for the heist plan from the Bank of England itself.

    He'd asked a bank official for advice on how to steal gold - explaining he needed the information for a film - and, to his surprise, a committee was set up to work out the best way.

    Audrey Hepburn was considered for a major role, but was busy on stage. But Alec Guinness wanted her in the movie and arranged for her to have a bit part, one of her first speaking film roles.


the guinness view


    Alec Guinness - The Diary of a Retiring Actor

    - Monday 6 May, 1996

    Sat in the sun for half an hour, drinking in the light greeness of everything, ruminating and wandering idly in my thoughts.

    The Lavender Hill Mob is being shown on TV this evening but I won't be watching it. (If only I had received 1 each time one of the Ealing comedies was shown I would be a rich man. My contract didn't cover mechanical reproduction.) It was a good film, I think; well over 40 years old now and mercifully it only lasted an hour and a half. Stanley Holloway and I got on exceedingly well and became good friends. He was always genial, easy-going and meticulously professional.

    Ealing Studios never succeeded in killing me in spite of some quite good tries, the first of which was during the making of Lavender Hill. Rehearsing a brief scene in which Stanley and I were required to escape from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the director (Charles Crichton) said, 'Alec, there is a trap door over there - where it says Workmen Only - I'd like you to run to it, open it and start running down the spiral staircase. Stanley will follow.' So I did as asked. A very dizzying sight to the ground greeted me. But I completed half a spiral before I noticed that 3 feet in front of me the steps suddenly ceased - broken off. I sat down promptly where I was and cautiously started to shift myself back to the top, warning Stanley to get out of the way.

    'What the hell are you doing?' the director yelled. 'Down! Further down!!'

    'Further down is eternity,' I called back.

    Stanley and I regained the panoramic view of Paris pale and shaking. No one had checked up on the staircase and no one apologised; that wasn't Ealing policy.


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