Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)

If I might draw your attenion to the word LAVENDER...
If I might draw your attenion to the word LAVENDER...

Genre: Crime Comedy (UK) 

Starring: Alec Guiness (The Bridge on the River Kwai • Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope), Stanley Holloway ("Our Man Higgins"  My Fair Lady)

Directed By: Charles Crichton ("Space: 1999" • A Fish Called Wanda)

Overview: Henry Holland, an underpaid bank clerk has toiled for 20 years monitoring armoured car gold bullion transports. When a new neighbour, Alfred, moves into his building, Henry learns that Alfred owns a smelting factory. Henry quickly devises a plan for a perfect score, but all plans have their risk...

A man with a heist plan, Henry, meets a man, Alfred, with the gear to carry out that plan, namely a smelting company in England that makes Eiffel towers for tourists in Paris. The plan is to smelt stolen gold bars into Eiffel towers, ship them to Alfred's contact in Paris, then pick up the now-smuggled gold towers and take their time selling it in another country. The situation gets messed up when the shop girl sells towers to tourists from the marked crates - six to be exact. The tourists, are, ironically of course, British students heading back to London. Here's the rub: instead of saying, 'well that sucks', leaving it alone and unload the gold they do have, these two men, Henry and Alfred, spend the rest of their valuable time following these school kids from Paris to London, to their schools with the intention of trading the gold towers for tin ones. One girl refuses of course, and they therefore plan on stealing it from her. Well would you look at that, she's giving hers to a friend, the policeman, as a gift. Oh and look, he just so happens to be working at the police exhibition, which also just happens to have a demonstration of a new chemical which will melt anything but gold.

I know it's far fetched, but sometimes film is just like that. Wait, I'm not done. This girl gives her gift of an Eiffel tower. It just so happens that the policeman investigating the gold theft is sitting there, watching her. Don't get me started. Well, based on previous information, the idea pops into his head that it's made of gold, so he grabs the tower and puts it in this chemical. Lo and behold it's not tin, doesn't melt, and right at that moment Alfred grabs the thing and bolts with it. Wakka wakka. Chase ensues, Benny Hill Style. There's panic, there's screwball, then there's stupid. Next time you smelt Eiffel towers and manage to get them out of the country, stay out of the country, sell 'em quick just in case, and buy a new identity. All that to say, lame premises make for lame movies.  Talk about 'gimmy a break' factor.

Alright, fine let me be just slightly more blunt...
Alright, fine let me be just slightly more blunt...

When The Lavender Hill Mob popped up in my mailbox, a left field delivery from my Canadian Netflix service, I thought it would be a refreshingly fun little interlude between the heavy dramas I'm accustomed to ticking off my 1001 Must See List. As I began to watch a very young Obi-Wan Ken Obi before his career as a gifted ninjatic sci-fi rebel, I quickly felt that I was in for a film that would merge an intelligent heist film with enough screwball to keep it funny while staying out of the Mel Brooks grade of stupid. About half-way through a passably good story, the plot twists to become a wacky off-the-wall foot chase with hoards of cops scrambling through a police exhibition - then turns into a slide-whistle worthy car chase that had everything but cartoon boings, an old lady blinking with incredulence while cars whiz around her as she's crossing the street, and explosions that leave everyone dazed in soot on a heap of twisted metal that used to be a car. And you know, had they added those things, going so overboard as being a laughable Mel Brooks grade of stupid, well perhaps I'd have enjoyed it... who am I kidding, that would have been terrible. My point is, dear readers, unfortunately, The Lavender Hill Mob succeeds at being a decent heist film, but fails when we encounter the hook, a stupid sub-plot involving the remotest of chances at police discovery. Well wouldn't you know it, the story takes us leaps and bounds to bring us to an ending so forced, so contrived that you suspended your disbelief three coincidences ago. In the end, the shrinking odds bring us to conclusion whose premise is so unfathomable that even an angel would have a rough time squeezing through the eye of that possibility's needle. 

If I may add a touch of awkward Mood to my critique, The Lavender Hill Mob also manages to include strange moments of, I don't know, symbolism (?) to the story unfolding. Moments where two men are running down the Eiffel tower stairs, clearly, gaily enjoying the adventure and camaraderie that comes from risking a life sentence in jail, and one man's hat flutters off in the wind. We watch as it plays about in the sky, and then later, we watch a coat do the same thing, fluttering by while the men gaily watch. What the hell is that?

No seriously, it's not a rhetorical question.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 6 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 68% (Not That Sweet Smelling)

I just read the tagline for this film and had I read it first, I might just have reconsidered: He stole $3,000,000 in gold and that's a lot of BULLion! How this piece won the oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, but with these other titles in the running, it was obviously a dry year for Writing, Story and Screenplay...

The Atomic City, The Sound Barrier, Pat and Mike, Viva Zapata!

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