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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Lavender Hill Mob (Blu-ray)
The Lavender Hill Mob (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // September 3, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted September 30, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Many critics consider Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) to be Ealing Studios' finest comedy, but I much prefer The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), a marvel of understated magic. Everything about the picture works: its gold bullion heist plot is imaginative yet believable; its execution funny but also suspenseful; the performances are exemplary; even the special visual effects, used extensively for one sequence, are nearly flawless.

Told in flashback, the film concerns Henry Holland (Alec Guinness), a mild-mannered but fussy London bank clerk entrusted to oversee shipments of gold bullion, a task he's performed without incident for nearly 20 years. At the bank Holland is regarded as something of a joke: emphatically trustworthy but unambitious and positively obsessive in terms of following all security procedures.

However, all these years Holland has, in fact, patiently been plotting the perfect crime. Opportunity arises when a new lodger, Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), moves into Holland's boarding house. Pendlebury owns a small foundry that manufactures tacky lead souvenirs, including Eiffel Tower paperweights shipped overseas to Paris. A partnership is formed.

To hijack the bullion van, the pair decide they need to recruit two experienced London villains. In an amusing sequence they talk loudly in public places about Pendlebury's safe being broken, Holland pretending to be a locksmith, but one petty crook, Lackery Wood (Sid James), unaware of this, is already cracking the safe, while another, Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass) shows up later. The foursome's scheme works almost perfectly, though Pendlebury is briefly detained by the police. But can they melt the gold and get it out of the country during the biggest manhunt in British history?

The screenplay by T.E.B. Clarke is especially good, taut as the best straight caper films, then just entering a kind of Golden Age of ‘50s masterpieces. Holland's plan has ingenious touches: to get the bullion van driver out of the truck Holland has Lackery whisk past on a bicycle, casually informing to the driver that his rear tire has gone flat. The things that go wrong are logical and unpredictable: Pendlebury ensures the crates of gold Eiffel Towers won't be touched in Paris by instructing his distributors not to open those marked with an "R" (for reserved), but there's a foul-up because of the differing ways that letter is pronounced in English and French. Six end up getting sold to English schoolgirls on holiday, but Holland is determined to exchange the valuable originals for lead ones, claiming "experimental models" had mistakenly been sold.

Directed by Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda), The Lavender Hill Mob features one of Alec Guinness's best performances, comedy or otherwise. Less showy than his parts in other Ealing films, Henry Holland, with his slight speech impediment and slouching gait, is one of those parts Guinness completely immerses into. It's a role built on constant observation: Holland studying the foundry's melting process, noticing a droplet of melted gold and carefully returning it with the tip of his umbrella. Unlike his resolutely single-minded scientist in The Man in the White Suit, Holland is similarly studious but also forms a close friendship with Pendlebury, the iconic image of the film being the two of them happily, drunkenly embracing. His character in The Man in the White Suit seems incapable of such relationships, even when sexy Joan Greenwood tries seducing him. Like Guinness, Holloway inhabits his character, an ordinary man who loves creating art even though he knows he lacks an artist's talent; he seems very real. The characters played by Sid James and Alfie Bass are more caricatures of London villains, but this is clearly by design, as they find themselves alternately bemused and charmed by "civilian" partners who, for a change, aren't bent.

Douglas Slocombe's great black-and-white cinematography captures England at the crossroads between wartime recovery and emerging technologies. One striking London location shows an obviously bombed-out corner, where on a still-standing adjacent building has been painted a huge advertisement for Ekcovision Televisions.

The special effects are so well done most audiences don't realize they're there. One sequence finds Holland and Pendlebury atop the Eiffel Tower, only to have to run down an impossibly long, dizzying circular stairway trying to catch the English schoolgirls riding down in the lift. The entire sequence uses optical composites, and sometimes traveling mattes. The effects are believable and surreally funny at once.

The film has a certain fame in that it features, in a tiny role with a single, barely-audible spoken line a young Audrey Hepburn, appearing as "Chiquita" in the opening scene. It wasn't her first part in a movie, but she does make an impression during her brief appearance, all of ten seconds. Robert Shaw did make his film debut in The Lavender Hill Mob, turning up fleetingly near the end as a police chemist, and Desmond Lewellyn, "Q" from the later Bond movies, likewise pops up in an uncredited bit as a customs inspector.

Video & Audio

  Sourcing an earlier 2K restoration, the black-and-white, 1.37:1 standard size The Lavender Hill Mob looks very good, showing its age here and there, but for the most part the transfer looks great. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio (mono) is likewise fine. Optional English subtitles are provided on this region "A" disc.

Extra Features

Supplements include a trailer and a newly-recorded audio commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold; a video introduction by director Martin Scorsese; a nearly half-hour interview with writer Clarke and an audio-only interview with director Crichton running about 13 minutes.

Parting Thoughts

One of the greatest of all British comedies, The Lavender Hill Mob is a DVD Talk Collectors Series title.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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