#235. Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

OK I need to just sit down and write this fucking thing, it’s absurd that it’s taken me so many drafts across two different months, just starting and then abandoning it. Here’s the issue: I watched The Lavender Hill Mob at work on a quiet night in the beginning of the semester with my colleague Jesus and it was terrific. It’s just clever at first and, to be honest, I didn’t realize it was a comedy until about thirty minutes in. By the end, though (especially during a long scampering foot chase from police), it’s laugh-out-loud funny—but it’s an interesting kind of laugh-out-loud in that…like, it’s not hysterical…it’s more like you’re laughing out of delight. The setups and payoffs are so clever and also I think there’s something extra funny about dapper older actors scrambling about like younger ones, fretful.

            Lavender Hill Mob has a lot going for it and I’d almost readily recommend it to anybody who’s got a thing for slower, quiet, British comedies (this apparently belongs to a series called The Ealing Comedies, screwball farces produced by Ealing Studios and usually starring Alec Guinness; the last one on the List was Kind Hearts and Coronets, which I think I prefer). And yet, in a way that almost never happens, I just have nothing to say about it. It’s not that the movie is forgettable, it’s just that there’s some hard-to-pin-down quality about it. It’s lean, and efficient at being the lighthearted comedy it aspires to be and, in that simple straightforward efficiency, seems to negate any sort of rebuke or critical prying.

            Guinness—who’s most famous for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—plays a bank manager who oversees deliveries of gold bouillon (a word I’ve never heard before) and who plans, slowly and carefully, to rob his own bank. When the movie opens, we’re given the impression hat he’s done exactly this. Seated in a lofty tropical café, dressed well, he’s about to tell somebody at his table how he got away with a fortune.

            So the movie is basically a flashback showing how he and an earnest buffoon named Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) pull it off. In order to move the gold, they melt it down and re-shape it as Eiffel Tower paperweights. Then there’s a mixup where their solid-gold Eiffel Towers are mistaken for the cheap ones sold at a gift shop. Hijinks ensue.

           It’s just a really good time and I can’t tell you how much I’ve stressed about the fact that I don’t have something more insightful or contemplative or even personal to recount here. I guess there are just some movies that do their job and don’t really command much in the way of discourse. I feel a bit better to find that, when Googling the movie and tryna find somebody else’s review that might be a catalyst for my own, it seems most people discuss Lavender Hill Mob within the context of like its place in the Ealing series. How it’s distinct form and similar to the others. But I think what also kinda fucks me up about it is that I’d like to think I can riff comfortable and productively and, dare I say it?, interestingly about virtually any topic that crosses my path. But no, I guess there’s just some shit about which I’ve got nothing to say.

            But yeah: what’s kind of upsetting is that this still very much belongs to a generation of filmmaking where the crooks can’t be allowed to get away with their crime. When, at the end, we flash back to that cabana-like restaurant in which Guinness is recounting his successful heist, we realize that he’s not recounting it so much as confessing it. The dude at the table is an officer who’s tracked him down. We close on his being escorted out by cops.

            It’s possible, though, that his comeuppance isn’t just a matter of a producer’s orthodoxy. Maybe it’s just a continuation of the gags throughout the movie: everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and in the end it will all have been for nothing. There’s definitely a kind of comedy in that. But we really like the character at this point and it’s a little depleting to think that this whole effort has been for naught.

            Anyway. It is what it is. I’ll post a second movie piece today to make up for the paucity of this one.

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