The Lavender Hill Mob
Who would figure Henry Holland (Alec Guinness) to be a master criminal? Nobody, it seems. The meek bank clerk has worked for 20 years at a major British financial institution, where his job has been to supervise the forging and transportation of gold bullion. He's awfully good at his job, too so much so that he rides in the back of the armored truck as the gold is transported, frequently insisting that the security detail stop and check on suspicious cars that may be following them. What nobody knows is that mild-mannered Holland (who secretly prefers the gangster nickname "Dutch") is planning to take down a big score. All he needs is to loot the gold from the truck on one of its routine trips, find a way to smuggle it out of the country, and create an airtight alibi that will free him of all suspicion. Help comes in the form of new neighbor Albert Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), a sculptor who makes his living by day casting souvenir toys to be sold at tourist traps throughout Europe. His company, Gewgaws Die Casting, provides Holland with the perfect front to melt down the gold bullion in this case, into tiny Eiffel Towers that will be shipped to France under the noses of British customs agents. But in order to plunder the truck, "Dutch" and "Al" need to find a real pair of crooks, and a bit of improvisational recruiting finds tough guys Lackery Wood (Sid James) and Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass) more than eager to take on the job. Directed by Charles Crichton, 1951's The Lavender Hill Mob is one of the crowning glories of London's Ealing Studios, perfectly capturing the delicious wit and pacing that made British comedies from the era so enormously appealing. Clocking in at a swift 81 minutes, it's a classic heist film that incorporates all of the usual elements the plan, the robbery, and the unpredictable aftermath when Things Go Horribly Wrong. But The Lavender Hill Mob is hardly a string of clichés, thanks in part to its marvelous cast. The shape-shifting Alec Guinness who built a career not just on acting, but on his uncanny ability to transform himself into different people altogether holds the film's center as Holland, a bespectacled, bug-eyed man of manic energy who is obsessed with his early retirement by illegal means. Playing against Guinness is Stanley Holloway as Pendlebury, a fellow more grounded in temperament, while Sid James and Alfie Bass provide comic relief as the two Cockney crooks who fall in with the gentleman robbers. From beginning to end it's a perfect example of light filmmaking, and Crichton even takes time to have a silly bit of fun Guinness and Holloway's dizzying descent down the Eiffel Tower on a spiral staircase towards the film's conclusion may not be integral to the plot, but it's simply a joy to see and hear. Look for a young Audrey Hepburn in a bit part in the movie's opening scene. Anchor Bay's DVD release of The Lavender Hill Mob, part of the Alec Guinness Collection, features a clean transfer from a strong black-and-white source print that looks very good, while audio is in the original mono (DD 2.0). Also on board are an Alec Guinness bio and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.