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Five Great Ealing Comedies

Although only a tenth of their overall output, the Ealing comedies are what the English film studio has since become best remembered for. They produced a total of nineteen films between 1947 and 1957, utilising many of the same writers, directors and actors, most notably Sir Alec Guinness. He may have won awards working with David Lean, and made millions working for George Lucas, but it was with Ealing that Guinness did his absolute finest work.


The Ealing comedies were often tales of the little guy against the establishment and they don't get more establishment than the entire British government. In this charming post-war tale, the inhabitants of the London neighbourhood of Pimlico, including Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford, unearth ancient documents which allow them to create their own independent nation state so they can get around annoying things like rationing.


One of the blackest films Ealing ever produced, and also one of the most delightful. Dennis Price stars as Louis, the son of an outcast member of the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family, who sets out to murder all the relatives that stand between him and a dukedom. Alec Guinness gets all the praise for playing all eight of members of the D'Ascoyne family, but the film just wouldn't work without Price. He makes this unrepentant killer such as charming chap that you just can't help but root for him as he mercilessly cuts down the family tree.


In this heist movie spoof, Guinness plays a mild mannered clerk at the Bank of England who teams up with Stanley Holloway's souvenir manufacturer to steal £1 million in gold bullion and smuggle it to Europe as Eiffel Tower paperweights. Everything goes to plan until a language mix up results in the gold being sold to a group of British schoolgirls which forces this unlikely criminal duo to make a mad dash back home to reclaim their loot. Keep an eye out for some early screen appearances by Audrey Hepburn and Robert Shaw.


A surprisingly timely tale about how big business will always crush any beneficial invention that threatens their profits. It's also the closest thing the studio ever came to making a science fiction film. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success), it stars Guinness as Sidney Stratton, a brilliant young chemist who invents a new kind of fabric that is indescribable and never gets dirty. Realising the massive effect such an invention will have on the textile industry, the mill owners (fearing a loss of profits) and the Trade Unions (fearing a loss of jobs) quickly act to bury Sidney's invention, leading to a memorable night time finale where Sidney, in his luminous white suit, is chased through the streets by an angry mob.


Not the final Ealing comedy, but certainly the last truly great one. It sees Guiness reunite with Mackendrick for the only film that matches Kind Hearts and Coronets for pitch black humour. Sporting a memorable set of fake teeth, Guinness plays the ghoulish "Professor" Marcus, the leader of a criminal gang (which also includes Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Danny Green, and Herbert Lom) who carry out a robbery at King's Cross Station. But after Marcus' landlady (a BAFTA winning Katie Johnson) stumbles onto their scheme, getting rid of the sweet old lady proves to be far more deadly for them than for her.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

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