December 31, 2012

The Lavender Hill Mob

I often walk down Lavender Hill- its an unremarkable road near Clapham Junction in London and happens to be on my route back from work to home. My walk home- if I chose to do it- goes through Clapham and I'm accompanied by so many other Londoners on their way home. In our suits, we tread through the streets- umbrellas at the ready and with rucksacks and cases to enable us to complete the day's work at home. I'm sure the picture is the same in New York or in Paris or in Tokyo: its the uniform life of the professional middle class everywhere. In some cases its a kind of drudgery- and occasionally on my way home I start dreaming of far off lands and skies and trees, of other worlds and other work and of what I might do with a million pounds or three million or four million. I'm not a lottery player so will never win that kind of money and those dreams for me will always stay dreams.

The Lavender Hill Mob is about a dreamer. Henry Holland does not much like his life- he doesn't like his name for a start. He doesn't like his job at the Bank [of England] escorting gold round London. But he does have what I don't- a plan to get enough money to live the life he wants to lead. We get a sense of what that is in the first scene of a film, sitting in some bar in Rio, he chats to a pretty girl (welcome Audrey Hepburn in her first screen appearance), drinks a glass of something with the British Ambassador and is the life and soul of civilisation, a good fellow to boot. He allies with another dreamer- an artist called Pendlebury. The artist quotes Shakespeare and makes busts: he lives though by making replicas of the Eiffel Tower. Holland wants to be a proper person, Pendlebury a proper artist and all they need is money: cue plot.

They can dream about this plot because they know what they are doing. The film makers themselves were advised by the Bank of England about how to steal the gold in concern (that's the urban myth on IMDB and I rather like it, true or not :)). Holland is the man who guards the gold which goes out from the Bank. He is one of those people who is paid little to perform a responsible position. They can do so because they are 'honest' men- a line actually used in the film itself. This counterposition gives the opportunity for the crime but produces a lot of the comedy. Two rather fabulous middle aged men, quoting Shakespeare, hire some hoodlums in the same way you might hire graduate trainees (see what they can do on the job)- they proceed to get involved in a police chase which resembles something between a real chase and a pair of undergraduates stealing another college's mascot! One of the great comic moments in the film where a respectable landlady explains criminal argot to the police relies on the counterposition between her politeness and her language.

Coming back to Lavender Hill and my walk home, it seems now not so odd a counterposition. Whether Lavender Hill was more realistically down and out then than it now is doesn't really matter. Actually the comedy of the film is enhanced by the fact that this mob now comes from a postcode that every young professional in London seems to desire to live in!