The Lavender Hill Mob, made in 1951, is one of the legendary Ealing comedies starring Alec Guinness. It’s also notable as an early example of the caper movie.
Alec Guinness is Holland, a mild-mannered bank employee whose job is to supervise the shipment of gold bullion from the refinery to the bank. Holland has always nursed the dream of stealing the gold but his problem is that safely disposing of stolen bullion in England would be virtually impossible. His problem is solved when Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) movies into the same private hotel. Pendlebury manufactures souvenirs. Souvenirs cast from lead. It occurs to Holland that someone who has the means of casting lead could just as easily cast gold. His plan starts to take shape. The stolen bullion will be melted down and cast into souvenir Eiffel Tower models which Pendlebury’s form ships to Paris. This is how they will get the gold out of England.
While the heist itself is entertaining the real fun begins after the robbery when a series of comic misadventures befall the gang and they find themselves desperately trying to retrieve gold Eiffel Towers which have been sold by mistake to a party of English schoolgirls.
The gang members are just about the most likeable film crooks you’ll ever encounter. You desperately want them to get away with the robbery. They’re not exactly bumbling thieves. Their plan is a good one and they carry it out skillfully. They just have an awful lot of terribly bad luck in ways they could not possibly have anticipated. The fact that they’re not complete idiots and that they’re really quite resourceful makes the humour less obvious and more effective, and it makes the audience even more sympathetic. After all they go through surely they deserve to end up with the million pounds!
Screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke apparently got assistance from several Bank of England employees to ensure that his idea for the heist really was workable. The effort he put into the clever and very witty script paid off handsomely - he won an Oscar for it.
This movie is easily obtainable on DVD just about anywhere and is available on Blu-Ray as well.
The Lavender Hill Mob is a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Highly recommended.