Release Date: September 2, 2002
Actors: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Peter Sellers, Valerie Hobson
Directors: Alexander Mackendrick, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer
Runtime: 346 minutes
Ealing's greatest comedies captured the essence of post-war Britain, both in their evocation of a land once blighted by war but now rising doggedly and optimistically again from the ashes, and in their mordant yet graceful humour. They portray a country with an antiquated class system whose crumbling conventions are being undermined by a new spirit of individual opportunism. In the delightfully wicked Kind Hearts and Coronets, a serial killer politely murders his way into the peerage; in The Lavender Hill Mob a put-upon bank clerk schemes to rob his employers; The Man in the White Suit is a harshly satirical depiction of idealism crushed by the status quo; while The Ladykillers mocks both the criminals and the authorities with its unlikely octogenarian heroine Mrs "lop-sided" Wilberforce.
Many factors contribute to the success of these films--including fine music scores from composers such as Benjamin Frankel (Man in the White Suit) and Tristram Cary (The Ladykillers); positively symphonic sound effects (White Suit); marvellously evocative locations (the environs of King's Cross in Ladykillers, for example); and writing that always displays Ealing's unique perspective on British social mores ("All the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily, any of the concomitant crudities of his period")--yet arguably their greatest asset is Alec Guinness, whose multifaceted performances are the keystone upon which Ealing built its biting, often macabre, yet always elegant comedy.
On the DVD: The Ealing Comedy Collection presents the four discs in a fold-out package with postcards of the original poster artwork for each. Aside from theatrical trailers on each disc there are no extra features, which is a pity given the importance of these films. The Ladykillers is in muted Technicolor and presented in 1.66:1 ratio, the three earlier films are all black and white 1.33:1. Sound is perfectly adequate mono throughout. --Mark Walker