The Ladykillers: Fun adaptation As Good As The Original

The Coen Brothers’ latest offering is an adaptation (not a remake) of one of the best of the British comedies The Ladykillers directed by Alexander Mackendrick starring Alec Guinness with a host of comedic geniuses that included Peter Sellers and Frankie Howerd in bit parts. I was fortunate to have recently watched it again last Christmas in London when it was aired on television. Still fresh, funny and innovative for its time, The Ladykillers will always remain as one of Britain’s best!

So, it remains a daunted task for the well-known Coen Brothers (Intolerable Cruelty, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Fargo) to fiddle with a much loved classic. But the story, now set in the U.S. is basically unchanged. A shifty professor of sorts, G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) appearing out of nowhere, rents a room from a church-going harmless, but loud, old lady Marva Munson (the late Irma P. Hall) to obtain access to the basement so as to tunnel towards $1.6 million in cash. His cohorts forming The Ladykillers, disguising themselves as a Renaissance orchestra, are a symphony of excesses; a venomous chain smoking Indo-Chine (Tzi Ma), a dim-witted footballer (Ryan Hurst), a military veteran (J.K. Simmons) with IBS and a foul-mouthed Gawain (Marlon Wayans). When Marva eventually discovers the truth, the gang is unable to dispatch her off. It is a grand old ageless yarn that can hardly go wrong in its re-telling.
Iram Hall as Marva Munson

The director play it safe in the beginning. The opening of the original showed Guinness walking across a London street, the mood and atmosphere of the people and times clearly established just as you watch The Ladykillers the film takes its time to do the same in the Bible belt of the brothers’ middle America. Some scenes like the one with the rendering of the Gospel tune ‘Let the Light from the Lighthouse Shine on me’ are long and overdone, though spirited and entertaining. The images are filled with color (the first movie was black and white) and the cinematography by Roger Deakins – particularly in the early sequences’ breathtaking. Unmistakable too, are the Brothers’ brand of humour (the jokes like the major suffering from irritable bowel syndrome; the dismembered finger etc.) and distractions (the multiple explosions) to the plot.

fake musicans
Inevitable comparison between the two films renders quite the differences. For example, when the elderly lady bursts unannounced into the cellar with cookies and tea, the initial film had the members scrambling around to find their instruments to fake their playing. In this version, the immediately following scene has all the members already seated with their instruments in hand. Minor variations include the way the corpses are dispatched (to a moving train in the original and here to a barge carrying trash). But the producers know their comedy is broader and quirkier and the laughs are consistent throughout their film.

For all that its worth, watch The Ladykillers online for free – the movie is amusing enough, but it still lies in the shadow of the British original.