THE LADYKILLERS

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 A1/A3 Class 4-6-2, and an N2 Class 0-6-2T. In addition, an ex-LMS Class 3F ‘Jinty’ 0-6-0T crosses over on the North London Line bridge with a freight. 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).

Looking like a model village the only thing that was a set in this establishing shot is the house at the end of Frederica Street at right angles to the railway. This was constructed by the film company but the railway lines running directly behind the house from left to right above the tunnel are the genuine article. They once served the Great Northern Railway goods sidings at Caledonian Road and connected with the tracks rising up on the embankment in the background.
The locomotive seen light engine in this opening shot is quoted in some sources as an A4 pacific. The sun glinting off the running plate and the large tender would at first glance suggest so until one looks more closely and sees that this locomotive is NOT streamlined in any way. Any guesses? In fact, the A4 is probably the only major Class familiar to the area at the time that does not appear in the film.
This shot from the rooftop of the house shows its alarming proximity to the railway. If the house was real then it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase the railway at the bottom of the garden!!
For a film depicting the railway era of the time there is probably none better than The Ladykillers. This is just one example of the many excellent, atmospheric shots that appear throughout. The loco in the centre of the shot in this instance looks to be an A1/A3 4-6-2. Just to get ones bearings this is Belle Isle bank between Copenhagen Tunnel (beneath the camera) and Gasworks Tunnel (out of sight around the bend) beyond which lay King’s Cross. The bridge with a freight train just passing out of shot carries the North London Line across the cutting between Caledonian Road (to the left) and Camden Road stations (to the right).
Cecil Parker on the rooftop of the house. The loco in the far background is a rare glimpse of a J52 0-6-0ST but can anyone identify the small tank loco that is immediately to the left of his head? It might be a J66 0-6-0T but the last of these was withdrawn from capital stock in October 1955 so that is a little unlikely.
Herbert Lom has now joined Cecil Parker on the roof of the house and three locomotive-hauled trains can be seen in the background. two beneath the bridge which the third, in the form of a freight train is crossing. The latter maybe in the hands of an ex-LMS ‘Jinty’ but it is a little unclear
In a classic scene from the movie Alec Guinness and Danny Green wheel the body of Cecil Parker away to be disposed off. The track in the foreground really was an actual siding that connected with the North London at Caledonian Road whilst the approaching loco is an N2 Class 0-6-2T on a suburban working.
The body of Cecil Parker is about to be dropped into the wagon of a passing freight train whilst the rear of another tank loco is in the left hand background.
Herbert Lom climbs onto the mock signal that was placed at the mouth of one of the tunnel portals, Copenhagen having three. Smoke is lingering in the foregound giving the tunnel a brooding, sinister, feel to it.
In the final railway scene of the film we get the pleasure of looking down onto V2 Class 2-6-2 No.60812. What a fabulous shot this is.
Away from the tunnels there were some scenes at King’s Cross itself, the best of which shows L1 Class 2-6-4T No.67800 arriving with a train
It would be nigh on impossible for a movie with so much filming in the King;s Cross area not to have St. Pancras appear, such was its size and status when compared with its next door neighbour. This is the scene looking down Argyle Street and St. Pancras is at the end making its presence known.
There is one final feature of the ‘railway’ that will forever be St. Pancras, the gasometers adjacent to the station approach that in a strange way have vied for as much attention as the station itself over the years. They have formed the backdrop to many a photograph and the structures are now listed. I felt they had to be included, the British Railways sign on the wall justifying this shots inclusion here in this scene filmed at the junction of Goods Way and Battle Bridge Road.