THE LADYKILLERS BLU-RAY
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: Spanish, French
Release Date: February 16, 2010
The Ladykillers is the original black comedy from Ealing Studios directed by Alexander McKendrick (Sweet Smell of Success). Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) is a spinster widow in London who unwittingly takes in a gang of thugs as boarders in her home. Mrs. Wilberforce is unaware that the men posing as musicians are actually planning a heist. The leader of the gang is Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness), and his cohorts include Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), Louis (Herbert Lom), Harry (Peter Sellers), and One-Round (Danny Green). When Mrs. Wilberforce sees a little more than she ought to, the thugs must cover their tracks, and their best laid plans unravel in the process.
The Ladykillers is a cult classic, which is not surprising given its stellar cast and the pedigree of talent behind the camera. Many consider this film to be the high point of output from Ealing Studios, and it was even remade in a film starring Tom Hanks by the Coen brothers in 2004. Entertainment Weekly called the original Ladykillers "one of the greatest comedies ever made." I do not share this sentiment although I grant that The Ladykillers is a fine film.
Much of the humor in The Ladykillers derives from the gang’s frustration and efforts in trying to cover their tracks by eliminating Mrs. Wilberforce and each other. Alec Guinness is in fine form as the leader of the gang, and even though their characters are underemployed in this film, it is interesting to see Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom together in the same film years prior to their roles together as Chief Inspector Clouseau and Commissioner Dreyfuss, respectively, in Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films.
The Ladykillers appears on Blu-Ray in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. There has been much controversy about the correct aspect ratio for this film, since it was apparently shown in many theaters in a 1.66:1 screen aspect. The Anchor Bay DVD release from a few years ago maintained this widescreen look for the film. When The Ladykillers was released in 1955, widescreen films were a relatively new phenomenon, and many movies that were filmed in the Academy ratio were soft matted for widescreen release. The various shots in the film appear to composed properly in the 1.33:1 screen aspect ratio. Most shots have more than the usual amount of footage at the bottom of the screen, suggesting that this film was designed with a soft matte in mind. (Anthony Mann’s The Far Country, also released in 1955, is a good example of this. The Far Country has been released on DVD in various editions in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio as well as 1.66:1. While 1.33:1 usually indicates the dreaded pan and scan transfer, that version actually includes more material in its respective frame than the widescreen version which chops off a large portion of footage at the top and bottom of the screen.) This Blu-Ray edition actually provides more picture overall than the widescreen version. Everyone has their own preference and I suggest to studios that they should include both versions on the same disc in the future so that we have a choice rather than have the decision made for us.
Lionsgate has done a fine job in cleaning up this film. I had some reservations about the drab appearance of the colors in the film, however, the film’s producers apparently intended this deliberately. After the colors in the first day’s rushes were too vibrant for McKendrick’s tastes, art director Jim Morahan was forced to repaint all of the interiors in more drab colors. Flesh tones on this transfer seem especially pale to my eye and there is no question that the Anchor Bay DVD had warmer colors, particularly in hues of flesh. The actors all appear as though they have never been exposed to sunlight, which may be attributable to the technicolor process used by Ealing in the 1950s, which apparently produced less vibrant colors than what came out of Hollywood during the same era. It is possible that the warmer hues of the Anchor Bay DVD were the result of digital manipulation but I cannot say for certain.
Film grain is present but minimal. DNR and edge enhancement seem minimal to non-existent. Any digital processing seems minimal and limited to elimination of dirt, debris, and other inconsistencies. The special features include an interesting side by side comparison of defects on the print before and after restoration. The bottom line is that, for better or worse, The Ladykillers on Blu-ray does not have the same clarity of image and rainbow of colors that we have become accustomed to seeing in restorations of films like The Wizard of Oz and The Pink Panther. Whether this makes the present transfer more like or less like its appearance on screen in 1955 is open to debate.
The lossless English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is excellent, given the limitations inherent in the original recording. There is none of the crackle, hiss, or inconsistency of sound volume that can still persist after digital cleanup.
The special features include all of the following:
An Introduction by Terry Gilliam (2:58): Director Gilliam briefly offers his impressions about the film.
Commentary With Philip Kemp: Film historian Philip Kemp provides an audio commentary with interesting facts about the production of the film.
Forever Ealing Documentary (49:37): This documentary of the history of Ealing Studios, including many interviews of cast and crew who worked at the studio, aired originally on BBC in the United Kingdom.
Interview With Alan Scott (10:30): Film writer and producer Scott talks about the influence of The Ladykillers.
Cleaning Up The Ladykillers (6:07): This is an interesting side by side comparison of defects on the print before and after restoration.
Interview With Ronald Harwood (7:15): Screenwriter Harwood offers his impressions on the film.
Interview With Terence Davies (13:49): Actor/director Davies talks about the film.
Trailer (2:34): Original UK trailer for The Ladykillers.
BD Live: Offer downloadable content regarding The Ladykillers and other releases from Lionsgate and Studio Canal. These features are not yet available at the time of this review.
Also included in the clamshell case is an illustrated booklet of 20 pages with the history and analysis of The Ladykillers by film critic David Parkinson.
The Ladykillers is an amusing black comedy from the United Kingdom. This is not the most striking restoration of a film from the 1950s and opinions will differ regarding the aspect ratio on this release. If you are a fan of this film, however, the wealth of special features alone may make this one worth the upgrade. Those who prefer the soft matte widescreen appearance of The Ladykillers may want to hold on to their copies of the Anchor Bay DVD.
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