American William Rose wrote the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. He claimed to have dreamt the entire film and merely had to remember the details when he awoke.
Mrs Wilberforce is a sweet and eccentric old widow who lives alone with her raucous parrots in a gradually subsiding lopsided house, built over the entrance to a railway tunnel in Kings Cross, London. With nothing to occupy her time and an active imagination, she is a frequent visitor to the local police station where she reports fanciful suspicions regarding neighbourhood activities. Having led wild-goose chases in the past, she is humoured by the officers there who give her reports no credence whatsoever.
She is approached by an archly sinister character, 'Professor' Marcus, who wants to rent rooms in her house. She is not aware that he has assembled a gang of hardened criminals for a sophisticated security van robbery at London King's Cross railway station: the gentlemanly and easily fooled con-man Major Claude Courtney; the comedic Cockney spiv Harry Robinson; the slow-witted and punch drunk ex-boxer 'One-Round' Lawson; and the murderous, cruel and vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey. As a cover, the "Professor" convinces the naive Mrs. Wilberforce that the group is an amateur string quintet using the rooms for rehearsal space. To maintain the deception, the gang members carry musical instruments and play a recording of Boccherini's Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 No. 5 during their planning sessions.
After the heist, "Mrs. W" is deceived into retrieving the disguised money from the railway station herself. This she successfully manages to do but not without serious complications owing to her tendency to righteous meddling. As the gang departs her house with the loot, 'One-Round' accidentally gets his cello case full of banknotes trapped in the front door. As he pulls the case free, banknotes spill forth while Mrs. Wilberforce looks on. Finally, smelling a rat, she informs Marcus that she is going to the police.
Stalling, the gangsters half convince Mrs. W that she will surely be considered an accomplice for holding the 'lolly' (slang for 'cash'.) In any case, they assert, it is a victimless crime as insurance will cover all the losses and the police will probably not even accept the money back. She wavers but when she rallies the criminals finally decide they must kill her. No one wants to do it so they draw lots using matchsticks. The Major loses but tries to make a run for it with the cash. As the oblivious Mrs. W dozes, the criminals cross, double-cross and manage to kill one another in rapid succession. The Major falls off the roof of the house after being chased by Louis; Harry is killed by One-Round who thinks Harry has killed Mrs. W after having a change of heart; One-Round tries to shoot Louis and Marcus when he overhears a plan to double-cross him but leaves the gun's safety catch on and is himself killed by Louis; Marcus kills Louis by dislodging his ladder under the tunnel behind the house causing Louis to fall into a passing railway wagon. Before falling into the carriage Louis fires a last shot at Marcus which nearly hits him. Finally with no one else left Marcus himself is struck on the head by a railway signal over the tunnel and drops into another wagon. All the other bodies have been dumped into railway wagons passing behind the house and are now far away.
Mrs. Wilberforce is now left alone with the plunder. She goes to the police to return it but they do not believe her story. They humour her, telling her to keep the money. She is puzzled but finally relents and returns home. Along the way, she leaves a banknote of large denomination with a startled "starving artist".Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus
Cecil Parker as Major Claude Courtney
Herbert Lom as Louis Harvey
Peter Sellers as Harry Robinson
Danny Green as 'One-Round' Lawson
Jack Warner as the superintendent
Katie Johnson as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce
Philip Stainton as the sergeant
Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy
Kenneth Connor as a taxi driver.
Guinness seems to have based his performance of Professor Marcus on the actor Alastair Sim, for whom the part was originally intended. Robinson was the first major film role for Peter Sellers; he would later appear with Lom in some of The Pink Panther films.
The film poster was by Reginald Mount.
Mrs. Wilberforce's house, No. 57, was a set built at the western end of Frederica Street, in Barnsbury, North London. In the 1970s a new housing estate was built in that area. The closest point to the location of Mrs. Wilberforce's house, is now at the southern end of Conistone Way. It was directly above the southern portal of Copenhagen Tunnel on the railway line leading out of King's Cross railway station. However, the views from her house are of Argyle Street, some distance away, with the tower of St Pancras railway station in the background. The scene of the security truck turning into King's Cross used the route from Goods Way, passing gas holders, turning left into Battle Bridge Road and right into Cheney Road. Goods Way was realigned northwards as a part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link works and the gas holders were removed. A short length of Battle Bridge Road survives, but Cheney Road was largely removed to accommodate a realignment of Pancras Road that was originally to run to the east of the German Gymnasium, but now runs between St Pancras railway station and the German Gymnasium.BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role - Katie Johnson
BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay - William Rose
Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay - William Rose
BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source
BAFTA Award for Best British Film
According to the National Film Finance Corporation, the film made a comfortable profit.
The Ladykillers currently holds a rare 100% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews.
In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted The Ladykillers the 36th greatest comedy film of all time, and The Guardian labelled it the 5th greatest comedy of all time in 2010.In 1966 the film was adapted into an opera by the Czech composer Ilja Hurník under the name The Lady and the Robbers (Dáma a lupiči).
A radio adaptation of the film, by Bruce Bedford, was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 13 January 1996 starring Edward Petherbridge and Margot Boyd.
In 2004 the Coen Brothers directed an American remake of the film, starring Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J. K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst. The setting of the film is moved from London to Saucier, Mississippi, home of a riverboat casino.
In 2011 the film was adapted as a play by Graham Linehan. It premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse in November that year before transferring to the Gielgud Theatre in London.
A new adaptation of the film arrived to London Vaudeville Theatre on their 2013 summer tour around the UK and Ireland. A big part of the cast has been changed for this new season.