A wonderful Ealing comedy with a great performance by British actress Katie Johnson, then well into her seventies, who plays Louisa Wilberforce – an old lady whose innocence is more than a match for a ruthless gang of criminals.
She lives in a tumbledown Victorian house near St Pancras Station and takes in as a lodger a strange ‘professor’ with prominent dentures (Alec Guinness in one of his most vivid disguises). He has four odd friends who visit regularly for the purpose, she is told, of playing chamber music.
In fact, they are plotting a large robbery and intend to use the house as their operational base
The group is nicely contrasted: Danny Green is a moronic heavyweight, Cecil Parker an ex-officer confidence trickster type, Peter Sellers a teddy boy crook and Herbert Lom a ruthless foreign gangster.
Inevitably Mrs Wilberforce finds out what they have been up to, and calmly takes them over as though they are little boys who have misbehaved in the nursery. They plot to kill her, but cannot agree who is to perform the deed.
The thieves fall out and each, in turn, is eliminated, the last felled by the arm of a railway signal as he disposes of the penultimate body.
The old lady, finding herself the custodian of a gigantic amount of used banknotes, goes along to the local police station to report it, but the amiable policeman (Jack Warner), who is used to her fantasies, sends her on her way.
The film ends as she walks home, wondering what to do with £60,000 and absent-mindedly dropping a pound note to a pavement artist who has drawn a picture of Winston Churchill.
Screenplay writer William Rose received an Oscar nomination for his clever script.
The recent Coen Brothers remake transferred the action in time and space – from Kings Cross, London to the American Deep South – and scaled up the caper from a mail train to a casino.