What TEB 'Tibby' Clarke (the author of the original screenplay) would have thought of Clive Francis's adaptation of this famous Ealing comedy, I dread to think.
Films from the Ealing stable had a certain quintessential and piquant Britishness about them. They reflected (in monochrome, of course) a rather inviting view of our post-war nation, with an increasingly bizarre array of eccentric characters (played by a talented repertory company of comedic character actors) involving themselves in preposterous situations amid the greyness, ration books and unfilled bomb craters of that time.
The present reconstruction of The Lavender Hill Mob misses the mark in certain vital respects. The adaptable, but cheap, and rather tacky cardboard cut designs by Tim Bird don't suggest any of the many scenes in which the action takes place, and the multi-doubling of the small company just doesn't work.
For those without an elephant's memory, or who have better things to do than watch television on a Sunday afternoon, The Lavender Hill Mob concerns a diffident bank clerk called Henry Holland (Francis, also directing) who, after 30 years of escorting gold bullion for his employer, decides it's time he took a stake in the business. He pals up with one Pendlebury (Victor Spinetti) who comes to stay at his genteel south London lodgings (in Lavender Hill), and the two conspire to steal the bullion.
Pendlebury smelts and manufactures Eiffel Tower souvenirs for the French market and they decide to export their ill-gotten gains as merchandising. They recruit two cute but incompetent professional purveyors of larceny (Michael Melia and Jack Wild) to assist. Needless to say, it all goes horribly wrong in a catalogue of Anglo-French misunderstandings, mistaken stock and a lot of running around. This is undertaken to an anachronistic soundtrack of 1950s radio snippets and coffee-bar rock 'n' roll.
There's light if brief amusement from some sharp one-liners, the antics of the two henchman and Holland's dreamy and world-weary commentary (taken, I think from the closely adapted screenplay) but, in essence, this is a sort of Odd Couple, concentrating on the Francis-Spinetti double-act. Both are competent but don't come close to erasing memories of Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway in the original. Claire Harding, who has obviously studied at the Joyce Grenfell school of acting, has her moments as the much-abused landlady, Mrs Fazackerly, ('If there's smoke, there must be dinner').
The whole production is languid and lacks self-confidence. It will please neither aficionados of the film nor lovers of theatrical comedy.
- Stephen Gilchrist (reviewed at Wimbledon Theatre)