I’ve been a fan of the Coen Brothers since I first saw Raising Arizona. Known for their quirky humor and skewed story lines, each of their films is both unique and somehow still the same. Fargo (1996), one of their more recent movies, was hard for me to explain to anyone. “Just go see it,” I would tell them. I have yet to be disappointed or bored with one of their films.
So I can report that The Ladykillers starring Tom Hanks is not only faithful to their particular cinema noir but perhaps their best film yet. Based loosely around a 1955 film starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, this one takes place in Mississippi instead of London. And this time a gang of crooks looks to use the root cellar of a lady’s house to tunnel into the vault of a casino and get away with the loot.
Tom Hanks stars as “Professor” G.H. Dorr, a quirky, long winded thief masquerading as a professor on sabbatical. He supposedly needs the root cellar of this house as a place for his band to practice the music they play at Renaissance Festivals. He also rents a room upstairs for fifteen dollars a week from the landlady, Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall). She is a deeply religious black woman whose long dead husband’s picture now hangs prominently above her fireplace. She talks to him regularly.
Dorr puts an advertisement in the paper that attracts those with the right talents to carry out this heist. While they have the right talents, they have disasterously wrong personalities. Particularly funny together are Garth Pancake (played by character actor J.K. Simmons ) and Gawain MacSam (played by Marlan Wayans) who couldn’t be more oil and water with each other. Irma Hall is a treasure as Marva Munson. Some of the best characters are not even human. The cat “Pickles” is constantly observing everything and literally tripping things up. The portrait of the late Mr. Munson often changes expression when events in the house change.
There is foul language up the wazoo, for those who are sensitive, but little blood and minimal violence. I am still laughing over this movie. It is not an over the top comedy, but one that comes at you often from the sides and pulls laughs from you in places that you did not expect.
If you liked the other Coen Brothers movies you will love this one. If you haven’t seen a Coen Brothers movie, I can think of no better one with which to start.