Masser af Guld
There is an entire subcategory of films devoted to heist comedies. It makes for a very entertaining movie experience to watch a group of people trying to get away with “the big coup” and even more entertaining if comedic elements are thrown in. I suppose it is the cat and mouse chase and the execution of a wild and daring plan that makes it interesting and the charm and/or silliness of the perpetrators that makes them likeable and harmless enough that we may root for them. In any case the formula works and I have lost count on how many of them I have seen. Even here in Denmark we had a very successful series of movies in the seventies about “Olsen Banden” using this exact template. Highly recommended, by the way.
“The Lavender Hill Mob” is exactly such a movie and it got the formula pat down. What makes it noteworthy is that this is another Ealing film and therefore full of the witty charm that was the trademark of that studio. In my opinion it does not come close to “Whiskey Galore!” but that was also exceptionally good. It is however on par with the other Ealing films I have seen and contains some hearty laughs especially in the second half of the film.
At the center of the film we find Alec Guinness as Henry Holland, a dry and dull bank clerk who thanks to his diligence, attention to detail and general lack of imagination is in charge of gold transports for a London bank. I have now seen Alec Guinness in a number of Ealing films and it is really amazing the range that man had. In “The Man in the White Suit” he was a young and energetic chemist, In “Kind Hearts and Coronets” he was, well, eight different roles including a woman! And here in the Lavender Hill Mob he does the middle aged boring and nerdy clerk to perfection. Yes, and I do hear Obi-Wan Kenobi when I close my eyes and listen to his voice.
The movie opens in Rio de Janeiro where Holland is busy giving money away while he is recounting how he became rich to a fellow Englishman. The main part of the movie is that story.
Back in England Henry Holland was a boring bank clerk. While Holland to all appearances is the perfect pedant to run the gold transports he was in secret planning to rob such a transport. He just needed the right way to get the gold out of the country. That solution came when the flamboyant and distraught (great combination) artist Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) moved into the boarding house where Holland lived. Pendlebury makes tourist souvenirs of the Eiffel Tower in lead covered with thin gold. The right weight, appearance and destination to get a lot of gold out of the country. Holland gets Pendlebury on board and now they just need a crew. How do you find qualified labor for such a job? Holland and Pendlebury come up with an ingenious plan so typical for the movie. The go around in town to crowded places while having a very load conversion on how much value they have lying around in their workshop practically unprotected. Then they hide out in the workshop waiting to see who shows up. As it happens two burglars show up, one they surprise when he enters and the other surprise them as he was there already when they came. They also seem very familiar with each other and are clearly professional types, especially when they learn that this essentially a job interview.
The heist itself is funny. There is the usual inventive complications that threatens to throw the project off track, but they pull it off and Holland is now a public hero helping the police (unsuccessfully) track down the gold thieves. It is however the aftermath that wins the price. Henry and Pendlebury head to Paris to receive their gold only to find that it is being sold as souvenirs at the Eiffel Tower itself. While they would do fine without a few of them the pedantic Holland insists that there must be no trace leading back to them so they throw themselves into a head over heels chase of the English schoolgirls who bought the golden souvenirs. This chase just gets more and more insane. Boarding the boat in Calais, hunting the reluctant girl into a police exhibition and leaving it with a tail of enraged and very confused policemen are just tight-slapping-laugh-out-loud funny. By stealing a police car and sending in false report they manage to throw the entire chase into disarray and that pile of police cars in the end is just classic. You may think that “The Blues Brothers” invented the police car pile, but it happened long before that. This is comedy of Keaton or Chaplin proportions.
So did they get away with it in the end? The interview in the beginning seems to indicate it, but as we cut back to Rio there is a little surprise in store for us. That is also perfectly in line with the formula but it is actually the only way it could go given this is a 1951 movie.
A young Audrey Hepburn has a small part in the movie, but it is so tiny that I actually missed it and only noticed when I read the titles in the end.
As always those Ealing blokes manage to pull off a charming and funny comedy that will not revolutionize anything, but is endearing and achieves its purpose: to make us laugh.