Generally, movie producers of great British films use their directing and acting talent to promote their films. It was ever thus. We are lead to believe that a film is going to be a good watch because Alexander McKendrick or David Lean, for example, directed it. Or that the film is worth watching because, let's say, Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness are in it. They rarely trumpet the name of the screenwriter, which is a pity, because sometimes the writer can be the genius behind the whole thing. Grahame Green is often cited as a great writer of British films, but he's an exception - you can probably count the writers of great films, that you are aware of, on the fingers of one hand. Sometimes, it's true, the cast or the director can be the most important thing about a film. For example, a Ridley Scott or Stanley Kubrick film are almost always the sole creative work of their 'auteur' directors. The same applies to acting talent.
But it isn't always the case - and although 1955's 'The Ladykillers' has a stellar cast and top flight director, the writer is really the main creative contributor here. This is not to discount the role of Alexander McKendrick as director or cast members Peter Sellers, Katie Johnson, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom or Alec Guinness. Far from it. But whilst it is possible to envisage alternative cast and directors bringing the script to the screen, without William Rose's script, it's impossible to conceive of any alternative script doing justice to that assembled talent.
First off, his 'Ladykillers' script was nominated for an Academy Award and won a BAFTA. He always said that the idea came to him in a dream - my kind of writer! William Rose had serious previous. He won an Academy Award for his script for 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katherine Hepburn. He had also previously written an Academy Award-nominated script for 'Genevieve' and would go on to write the script for the exquisite 'The Smallest Show on Earth', plus one of my all time favourites, the vast and sprawling comedy epic, 'It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World'.
Although an American, William Rose spent a good deal of his time in England, and married an English woman. It is very apparent from 'The Ladykillers' that he understood what it was to write an Ealing Comedy just as much as any native writer of those comedies and that above and beyond that, he had a detailed knowledge of London. The plot of 'The Ladykillers' is very much dependent on the geography of where the heist is planned, where it takes place and its immediate aftermath - the old lady's lopsided house precariously balancing above the entrance to a railway tunnel, the grandeur of the backdrop of St Pancras railway station and Kings Cross railway station where the heist actually takes place. Indeed, a cottage industry has sprung up around discussing the shooting locations, partly inspired by the fascinating area of London in which he sets his comedy.
Next, it is William Rose's characters that hold our attention. Katie Johnson's eccentric old lady, Cecil Parker's gentleman con artist, Peter Seller's cockney spiv, Herbert Lom's euro gangster and Alec Guinness' sinister old professor.
And above all, it is William Rose's skill in connecting his clever plot, fascinating characters and interesting locations that singles 'The Ladykillers' out as an exceptional, perhaps the most exceptional of all of the Ealing Comedies. Maybe the film's greatest compliments are paid to it by all of its imitators and adaptors - there have been several stage adaptations, a couple of radio adaptions and a 2004 Coen Brothers film remake starring Tom Hanks. But William Rose's 1955 film version rules supreme. And earns a comfortable 5 stars from me.