Monday, July 07, 2008


Classic British comedy – it’s not actually funny, is it? I don’t just mean the acknowledged pap like Carry On and Benny Hill; the alleged good stuff is often pretty shoddy too. I just watched the “classic” 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers and laughed approximately once and that was at something the cat did. Now I’m even more baffled than I was at the time by the invective directed towards the Coens' remake a few years ago. It was hardly the brothers’ best work, but it was amusing enough – I saw it at a preview screening and the audience were pishing themselves throughout. I guess it crossed a lot of critics because not only was it a remake but it was a remake of a forrin film and therefore hateful in a way that even the Coen factor couldn’t mitigate.

Compare The Ladykillers to an actual comedy classic of the era (one that is funny and well-made, Some Like It Hot, say) and it’s like comparing the episode of Neighbours in which Madge died to Hamlet. Of course one must allow for the proverbial subjective nature of humour, especially when viewing the comedy product of another era, but still there’s obviously something wrong with people who rave about The Ladykillers. Oh look, Obi Wan Kenobi with funny dentures! How sophisticated and quintessentially British! (Fortunately The Ladykillers isn't French because then critics would have to pretend it is funny and meaningful.)

In short, I'm right and everybody else is wrong. Amazing how often that happens.


TimT said...

I love the old British comedies.

Literary anecdote for you. Apparently when Arthur Miller visited Britain, he was taken by David Lean (not sure if's really David Lean, but for the purposes of this anecodte he'll do) to a Noel Coward play. Miller was mystified, and when the play was over, he turned and asked Lean what it was all about. To Miller, it was all a succession of 'you know', 'what', 'quite', 'Would you'? 'Shall we' and 'what nots'. Not only line of actual dialogue. Though of course, that's sometimes the whole point of British comedy, isn't it? The fine gradiations in meaning between 'What what' and 'what ho', and the type of nonsensical poetry they make when put together. (P G Wodehouse's writing wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if it were written in simple rather than toff English.)

I haven't seen Ladykillers. Even in those old UK comedies that aren't immediately accesible, I still find a lot to like, even if they're simply showcases of their era (ie, 'here's what comedy was like in the 1950s'!)

TimT said...


(not sure if it was really David Lean, but for the purposes of this anecodte he'll do...

Not one line of actual dialogue.

Ben.H said...

I was all ready to defend the original Ladykillers until I read about Madge... dead?

Tim said...

Oh yes, for many years now. Apparently the actress who played her complained about the way Madge's personality was changing and decided to leave. Then the writers killed Madge off with a long, painful illness, thus ensuring she could never return! Except, of course, as Madge's evil twin.

Tim! I knew you'd comment on this post, and your points are appreciated. Truthfully I am more Anglophile than 'phobe, but sometimes the ancestral self-loathing kicks in and I feel the urge to sink the slipper into Old Blighty's backside.