The Ladykillers

Movie Information

b>In Brief: The Coen Brothers' much misunderstood reimagining of the 1955 Ealing Studios Comedy of the same name finds Tom Hanks taking on the role originated by Alec Guinness — and making it his own. That's much the same thing the Coens did with the film — adhering to the basics of the story about a group of not-very-adept criminals using the home of an unsuspecting little old lady as their base of operations, while creating something completely fresh and original. It deserves another chance.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, J.K. Simmons, Marlon Wayans, Tzi Ma
Rated: R

For the traditional Coen Brothers Asheville Film Society anniversary selection, we find one of the Coens’ most underrated — and even controversial — films: their 2004 remake of the 1955 Ealing Studios comedy The Ladykillers. For reasons I never fully understand, people get their knickers in a twist whenever someone remakes a highly regarded classic. Why? It does nothing to the original — except to draw attention to it, potentially making the original known to people who otherwise would never have heard of it. (Someone remind me I said this should there ever be an attempt at remaking Ken Russell’s Tommy.) In truth, the Coen film is somewhere in between an homage to the original and an Americanized-modernized reimagining of it. I have no trouble at all loving both films (and the original is one of the very few Ealing comedies that I think still lives up to its reputation). The story here has been transported to a small town in Mississippi where a naïve God-fearing old lady (the wonderful Irma P. Hall) just happens to have a house with a cellar — the same cellar a gang of thieves plan to use to tunnel into the vault of a casino. The mastermind of the whole thing is a decidedly eccentric academic (maybe) with a penchant for old-fashioned Southern clothes and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He calls himself Professor G.H. Dorr — played by Tom Hanks in one of his most unusual performances. Hanks and Hall alone would make the film worthwhile, but the Coens also give us stylish direction, clever dialogue and a marvelous soundtrack of gospel music. The biggest problem with the film is Marlon Wayans as the trash-mouthed member of the gang. Yes, it sets up some great moments with the old lady, but his character seems to have wandered in from another movie altogether — and his nonstop profanity alienated more than a few viewers who went to the film to see “that nice Tom Hanks.” Wayans doesn’t come anywhere near sinking this black comedy of crime gone wrong, but neither does he do it any favors.

The Asheville Film Society will screen The Ladykillers Tuesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “The Ladykillers

  1. Xanadon't

    This is the only Coens movie I’ve yet to watch.

    Do you think watching the original in the meanwhile would enhance or take away from my Tuesday viewing experience?

  2. Ken Hanke

    Boy, that’s a tough call. Problem is I’ve known the old film so long that I can scarcely remember not knowing it. It didn’t hurt my experience with the Coen version, but I also didn’t watch it within a few days of the new film. That seems chancey.

  3. Jeremy Dylan

    I found out recently that this was originally written for Barry Sonnenfeld to direct. He suggested the remake idea to them, they went away and rewatched the original, then agreed to write it.

    Then Sonnenfeld did some monkeying around to get out of a contract with Disney and persuaded the Coens to direct it instead, which helped facilitate ending the contract. So we wound up with this.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Considering the quality of most of Sonnenfeld’s movies, this strikes me as a good thing.

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