Movies My Dad Likes For Christmas: The Lavender Hill Mob [1951]


Staying with the inoffensive theme I have bucked the current vulgar trend in comedy and gone for a golden oldie in The Lavender Hill Mob from the prolific Ealing Studios. Although more than sixty years old it remains one of the best comedy films ever. The main character is Holland who’s responsible for collecting gold bullion from the foundry and bringing it back to the Bank of England. He has been doing this job in his bowler and brolly city attire for 20 years and appears to everyone as honest and dependable but boring and shy. Little do they know that he’s been plotting all those years to steal a gold shipment and live like a king. His problem has been finding a way to smuggle the gold out of the country to sell on the black market. Holland is played by Alec Guinness; probably the most accomplished and versatile British actor of all time.

His problem is solved when new lodger, the bumbling Pendlebury, arrives at the hotel in Lavender Hill where Holland lives. He owns a smelting business that makes souvenirs for the tourist trade. On a visit there Holland sees miniature Eiffel Towers made from molten lead and coated with gold paint. Holland realises that the gold could be sent abroad if converted to look like harmless souvenirs and an enthusiastic Pendlebury becomes his partner in crime. When it comes to working outside the law they are both virgins so they look to hire two hardened criminals. Boasting in public that they have a lot of cash in a broken safe they wait for the inevitable break-in. Sure enough two separately take the bait and after interrogating the CV’s of Lackery and Shorty the Lavender Hill Mob are up to strength. With the newcomers played by Sid James and Alfie Bass you just know things won’t go exactly to plan.

Sure enough the robbery of the bullion itself becomes a bit of a farce with both Holland and Pendlebury ending up in a police station, the former after falling in the river. It’s worth mentioning that the police are somewhat dim and act like an English version of the Keystone Cops. Eventually all four of the Mob and the gold bullion arrive at the smelting works and when the first tower is cast they refer to it as their first-born. They pack the souvenirs in crates and the ones with towers made from gold marked with an ‘R’. They are then shipped to France. Pendlebury phones his Paris agent to tell her crates marked with an ‘R’ are not to be opened. This heralds their downfall as an ‘R’ spoken in English sounds like an ‘A’ in French.

So it’s off to Paris for H & P with all the joys of spring. When they visit the shop atop the Eiffel Tower they find an ‘R’ marked crate open with six valuable gold miniatures missing. A bunch of young schoolgirls have them and they’re in the lift going down. So it’s the spiral staircase for our intrepid pair but they’re too late as the girls’ taxi is just pulling away. This is repeated all the back to Blighty as Holland tries in vain to recover the goods that could send them to jail while Pendlebury returns to Paris to sell the remaining gold. The multitalented Stanley Holloway plays Pendlebury.

They trace the girls’ school and manage to buy back five of the towers but one obstinate pupil refuses to part with hers as she bought it for a friend, who happens to be a policeman working at a police exhibition. It’s there, surrounded by the old bill, that they steal it and the mayhem that follows is all neatly timed slapstick. Having taken a police car to make their escape they use the radio to misdirect those in pursuit, many of them in historical uniforms. They eventually are stopped but Holland evades capture and sets sail for the good life in South America. He is ultimately taken in to custody as in those days movies had to show that crime doesn’t pay. I wonder if there will ever be a remake to show that unfortunately it does.


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