Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sid James, Alfie Bass, Marjorie Fielding, Edie Martin, John Salew, Ronald Adam, Arthur Hambling, Gibb McLaughlin, John Gregson, Clive Morton, Sydney Tafler, Marie Burke, Audrey Hepburn
Written by: T.E.B. Clarke
Directed by: Charles Crichton
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 06/26/1951

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Eiffel Truth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Today, English actor Alec Guinness is primarily known for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977), and perhaps some cinephiles know him for his six films with director David Lean, notably his Oscar-winning turn in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). But hardcore fans love these early comedies -- each a work of genius -- produced at Ealing studios in the 1950s. The films generally run less than 90 minutes, and they each move with a snappy, clever pace. The general formula starts each film with a kicker of a set-up, and then flashes back to the story of how things got that way, and then finishes things off with a wicked twist.

After a tour-de-force performance in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Guinness returned with a leading role in the wonderful The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), directed by Charles Crichton (who went on to make A Fish Called Wanda). Guinness plays a meek bank clerk who supervises a weekly transfer of gold. After years of frustration he finally cooks up a plan to steal it by melting it into little souvenir Eiffel Towers. Of course, everything goes comically, brilliantly wrong. Look for Audrey Hepburn, not yet a big star, in a tiny role.

In 2019, Kino Lorber released a lovely Blu-ray edition includes a commentary track by film historian Jeremy Arnold, an introduction by Filmmaker Martin Scorsese, a TV interview with screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke, an audio interview with director Crichton, and trailers for this and three other Guinness/Ealing movies.

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