Rewind: The ladykillers: Herbert Lom, the actor, recalls filming Ealing Studio's classic 1955 comedy
Friday 04 March 1994
I had my head shaved for The King and I, which is why I wear a hat in The Ladykillers. I wouldn't have liked to wear a wig. Anyway, I play the kind of character who could have easily had his head shaved from his last stint in prison.
Sandy (Alexander) Mackendrick, the director, died recently. He was a lovely man: very sensitive, very nervous, highly strung, always ready to work himself up into a little hysterical scene or lose his temper, but never, repeat never with his actors on the floor, only with the producers in the front office.
It was enjoyable making it. I met the young Peter Sellers, chubby and not very experienced. I remember him asking me after the film was finished if I could help him get another job in the movies. I said I didn't think he'd need me. And he didn't. In the course of the Pink Panther films we became quite close friends for many, many years. Everybody asks me if he was difficult, but I think he was the easiest chap to work with. He was a giggler, and if you're making comedies, that's important.
Working with Alec Guinness was quite funny. One learned a lot because he was, after all, the most experienced of us all. I said one day after we'd been rehearsing for some time, 'Come on, let's do it once more, Alec.' He said, 'If you know too much about it, all the fun goes.' There's some wisdom in that remark and it taught me a lesson.
Sandy was an intellectual in the best sense, and also a very good technician. He had a very tough time, I believe, when he went to the United States. Many Americans who made it to superstardom were - how shall I put it? - physical types: Burt Lancaster was a former circus acrobat. These chaps were ready to grab you by the throat and hang you out of a third-floor window till you agreed with their point of view. Well, Sandy almost came to physical blows with some stars he had to work with, and I think he gave up directing to teach because he felt that directing in the USA was too much of a physical battle.
There was talk recently of an American remake of The Ladykillers - some of the morons in Hollywood want to remake every successful picture that ever was. I think Shirley Maclaine was approached to play the old lady. I don't think they asked Sandy but I'm sure Sandy would have sent them packing. But I also heard, the last time I was in Czechoslovakia (Lom was born there), about six months ago, that a very serious and brilliant composer had written an opera called The Ladykillers - I'm dying to see that.
Herbert Lom introduces 'The Ladykillers' at the National Film Theatre tomorrow at 2.10pm. Details: 071-928 3232.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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