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Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)


Main image of Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)
DirectorCharles Crichton
ProducerMichael Balcon
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ScreenplayT.E.B. Clarke
Director of PhotographyDouglas Slocombe

Cast: Alec Guinness (Henry Holland); Stanley Holloway (Alfred Pendlebury); Sidney James ('Lackery' Wood); Alfie Bass ('Shorty'); Marjorie Fielding (Mrs Chalk)

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A mild-mannered bank worker decides to steal a delivery of gold bullion. Enlisting the help of a small businessman, they hatch a plot to disguise the gold as Eiffel Tower memorabilia.

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The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) was the second of three Ealing collaborations between director Charles Crichton and writer T.E.B. Clarke, the team responsible for Hue and Cry (1947) and The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953). Like those films, and Clarke's previous comedy, Passport to Pimlico (d. Henry Cornelius, 1949), it is a piece of thoroughly good-natured escapism.

The fantasy here is the perfect robbery - £1 million in gold bullion stolen from the Bank of England and smuggled to France in the form of Eiffel Tower paperweights - and it barely matters that, in the end, the meek master-criminals Holland (Alec Guinness) and Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) are both captured.

Theirs is a harmless daydream, an ultimately mild gesture of defiance against conformity. For all the brilliance of their initial plan, they are finally undone by a very English failing, a lack of competence in foreign languages - Pendlebury's instruction to his French assistant not to sell paperweights from the boxes marked 'R' is misunderstood, because the English 'R' sounds like the French 'A'.

Holland and Pendlebury - both nice, gentle and unthreatening in their non-conformity (this is a crime without victims) - are light years away from the more menacing (though no more successful) gang of The Ladykillers (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955). Even their partners-in-crime, the Cockney professional thieves Lackery (Sidney James) and Shorty (Alfie Bass) carry not a grain of ruthlessness: they are so trustful of Holland and Pendlebury that they even risk losing their share of the profits (and presumably do).

The film gently satirises the Establishment, in the shape of Holland's unperceptive employers at the Bank, the media, and the police. The climactic car chase, in which Holland and Pendlebury almost, but not quite, outwit their police pursuers, wittily spoofs one in The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden, 1950), also scripted by Clarke.

Although not as tidy in its plotting as Passport to Pimlico - we never learn what happens to Lackery and Shorty - The Lavender Hill Mob is as enjoyable as it is lightweight, and absolutely characteristic of Ealing, with its gang of likeable eccentrics who briefly challenge authority before passively accepting defeat.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. A unique position (1:23)
2. Honest men (3:42)
3. Calling all cars (3:34)
Original poster
Production stills
Charles Crichton: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1987)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
League of Gentlemen, The (1960)
Auric, Georges (1899-1983)
Bass, Alfie (1920-1987)
Clarke, T.E.B. (1907-1989)
Crichton, Charles (1910-1999)
Guinness, Alec (1914-2000)
Holloway, Stanley (1890-1982)
James, Sidney (1913-1976)
Llewelyn, Desmond (1914-1999)
Shaw, Robert (1927-1978)
Slocombe, Douglas (1913-)
Tafler, Sydney (1916-79)
Ealing Comedy