by Jaime Grijalba.
How can you possibly think of killing such a sweet old lady? Well, given the circumstances in which these five criminals are found, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have wanted the same, but even then, why kill such a great and kind lady? Well, there are some levels in which the performance of Katie Johnson of the character credited in the movie as ‘The Old Lady’, and I think that there’s a certain cleverness on the decission to name her like that, because she is the embodiment of what we think about when we talk about old sweet ladies, she is the cliché before the cliché, the archetipe of the oversweetness of the english mother, one that was later satirized and forever encapsulated in the multiple renditions of them in the TV series ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, being played by all the members of the troupe in one episode or another, being the most memorable the one called ‘Njorl’s Saga’. There is something in the performance that makes me think every time I see it, and I end up considering it one of the best supporting performances in the history of cinema (damn me if I remember if I actually voted for it in the polls, nevermind) because there is a documentary feeling about it, there is a natural charm that comes from within, as if this was any old lady that was stopped right in the middle of the street and asked if she wanted to perform in a movie called ‘The Ladykillers’ alongside the talent of Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom. There is something believable that is quite supported by the screenplay and the situations in which this old madame founds herslef in alongside these criminals, some naiveté, some obliviousness towards what is actually happening around her that makes it a memorable film, one of the best screen performances and the only element of ‘normal’ in this incredibly crazy british film.The way that she talks to herself as she goes through the things in the house, or talking to the parrots she owns, or simply just when she sits down to read a book as she listens to what she thinks is a string quintet playing in the room is one of the most powerful and at the same time funny moments in the film, it’s a mixture of a clever proposition of filmmaking, the difference between what characters know and don’t know, compared to what the audience knows, it makes up for the best amount of laughs, not at the naive character of the old lady, but with the criminals as they shamelessly lie to the face of this sweet lady as she offers them tea, coffee or to help in whatever disorder happened in the house at the last moment, like a fleeing bird or a cluttered pipe. One of the funniest moments is when she starts hearing for the first time the record that they play over and over again as they discuss over and over the elements of the crime they are going to commit, I love the sequence how she hits the water pipe with a hammer and then knows exactly when the water is going to come out, and how she talks to them about a emotional memory of hers about how she had a string quintet for his 21st birthday, the same day the Old Queen died, just to be answered later by the dumbest of the group with ‘Who’s this Old Queen?’, and then how she calls them ‘nothing short of amateur’, you notice that there is a mixture of how innocent this old dame is regarding her guests, and also how dumb the criminals are when they name themselves amateurs and then play a record of what could be the best rendition of ‘Music’ by the London Orchestra. Now that is a clue, of course, of how badly prepared they are, as smart as they think they are to make the crime of the century, they are actually quite the group, not knowing how to simulate or try to hide their condition in front of this lady, specially when it all starts to go down, she catches them in their lies and how they try to kill her.
Because, how dumb you have to be to not be able to kill an old lady? All you need is a good whack in the head and her eyes will pop out inmediatly. The real question is why would you do it, and here is where the movie achieves depth in terms of characterization, where we find that our characters are either clumsy, stupid or just enormously sentimental. The most ruthless of the criminals may seem to be the adecuate choice for the killing of the innocent dame (after all, the only thing she wants to do is go to the police and report these gentlemen), finds himself torn between the prospect of money and the fact that he is trying to take the life of someone that looks so much like on of his relatives, or when another tries to quickly do it with the most painless and effortless method, only to be found as a clumsy and stupid criminal that maybe thought that was smart at associating with these fine gentlemen only to be found killed by his own hand. The body count of the film is funny, and the process of repetition and elimination that takes over the final moments of the movie is just genius, the best example of what we call ‘black humour’, a mixture of death, jokes, silences and witty dialogues that makes anyone cringe and laugh at the same time. The comedy of errors, the coincidences, the happenings that make you want to poke your eyes out just because you are desperate: you want the lady to live, but at the same time you want them to escape with the money, really, how good a movie must be so that you care about both sides of the ecuation. Obviously at the end everything turns out for the most adecuate ending and the final moments are a masterpiece of poetic justice, this movie is one to sherish and think about when we talk about great british comedies, and black comedy in general. This is what I think about.