GB 1955 1hr 37mins Dir: Alexander Mackendrick Starring: Alec Guinness and Katie Johnson
A gang of robbers use an old lady’s house as cover but all does not go according to plan
This classic black comedy from Ealing Studios ranks alongside The Titfield Thunderbolt as its most famous railway film even if it isn’t really a railway film at all. Whereas ‘Titfield’ epitomises the rural branch line, ‘Ladykillers’ is soaked in the atmosphere of smoky tunnels, goods yards and built-up approaches to main line termini. The railway forms a very atmospheric backdrop that dominates the proceedings, particularly in the last half-hour or so. Mrs Wilberforce’s house that the gang use was specially created for the film over the southern portal of Copenhagen Tunnel (594 yards), but the siding running past her backyard is of interest, more on which later. The freight trains which the bodies of the gang fall into are on the lines that run into and out of King’s Cross Goods Yard. The signal that hits Alec Guinness on the head during the film’s climax was, like the house, specially set up for the film at the mouth of the tunnel. Much rolling stock, both passenger and freight, is seen throughout the movie, and provides a tantalising glimpse of the railway scene at the time. Like ‘Titfield’ it is all in colour too. A whole myriad of ex-LNER locomotives are visible, those identifiable include a J52 Class 0-6-0ST, an A3 Class 4-6-2, and an N2 Class 0-6-2T. In addition, an 0-6-0T crosses over on the North London Line bridge with a freight, and it may be an ex-LNER J50. In the very final railway scene one looks down onto ex-LNER V2 Class 2-6-2 No.60812, complete with glowing firebox and full tender of coal. It is an exceptional glimpse of a loco class that was not all that common on film. There are also some scenes that were filmed within King’s Cross station itself and there is a very good shot of ex-LNER L1 Class 2-6-4T No.67800 which passes under Alec Guinness as he stands on the footbridge pretending to be a trainspotter. Unsurprisingly, the exterior of St Pancras station is visible in the background to a number of scenes and in one shot filmed in Battle Bridge Road a small tank loco is passing over the road on the steel girder bridge outside St Pancras but it is virtually obscured from view. (Visitors to the site please note, I have not put the screenshots in the order they appear in the film, but have instead grouped them together in sections). The film’s outtakes are well worth seeing as well some, or most of them, can be seen on Steam on 35mm Volumes 1 & 2. A number of A4’s, A3’s, V2’s & N2’s are seen climbing through Belle Isle and passing Copenhagen Junction ‘box, mostly filmed from above Copenhagen Tunnel looking down into Belle Isle. In fact, the A4 is probably the only major Class familiar to the area at the time that does not appear in the completed film.