The Lavender Hill Mob is one of the classic British Ealing comedies that everyone hears so much about but, funnily enough, nobody ever feels like actually sitting down to watch. People know that this film is good because they’ve been told that it’s good by people who haven’t watched a film made in the last thirty years.
This film has not aged well. Some films that were released over fifty years ago – Á bout de Souffle, M, The Third Man – still seem vibrant and modern. The Lavender Hill Mob is a paragon of a bygone era in cinema, a vision of England and English people that never really existed outside of Ealing Studios. The cast is a mixture of cheeky Cockney geezers rubbing shoulders with incredibly posh and inexplicably wealthy bank clerks to commit a bank robbery that ends up with all sorts of amusing hi-jinkery.
The film begins with Holland, played by Alec Guinness, ruminating on how he could possibly commit the perfect robbery. He has been in charge of gold bullion deliveries for a very long time, and has his whole plan hatched but for one small detail – how to make off with the loot? Step in Pendlebury, played by Stanley Holloway. It just so happens that he owns a foundry, and the perfect tools necessary to melt down ingots of various metals and remould them into any shape they want. The penny drops and Holland and Pendlebury plan to escape with the bullion moulded into miniature Eiffel towers, to make good their escape with the loot into continental Europe. Of course, it doesn’t quite work out as smoothly as that, and they all get arrested in the end (in line with the morals of the era).
The film portrays England as a land of extremes, where the middle and upper classes tolerate and avoid the lower classes except for when they need a crime committed. Of course, the first two men they stumble upon – Lackery and Shorty, are two cheeky Cockney chappies who’ll do just anyfin’ for a bob or two, sir. It’s simplistic, it’s embarrassing, and it all looks very passé.
The film is being re-released to coincide with the 60th anniversary of its original release, and the restoration job is superb. In fact, when you notice how good the restoration job is, that’s when you know you’re watching a boring film.
The film-makers decided to have the gang get caught for their crimes to ensure the film’s release in the very profitable American territories, with the prevailing Hays code still in full-force over there.