"The Lavender Hill Mob" is one of Ealing Studios' best loved productions. With Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway as a couple of amateur gold thieves and Sid James and Alfie Bass as their petty criminal sidekicks it's certainly a class act.
One of the reasons why I like it - aside from the cracking cast and story - are the scenes of post war London. The film was made in 1951 - after the Blitz and before a lot of the redevelopment had taken place. The London we know today is a mix of period and modern architecture - but halfway through the 20th century it was a very different place. It was a mix of those buildings that had survived, and fenced-off gaps denoting those that were gone forever. I hasten to add that we are talking mainly about the east end here. I recently watched another fifties film called "Touch and Go" which had scenes filmed near the Albert Bridge. There was no sign at all of Blitzed London down this end of the river. As the Lavender Hill Mob carry out their planned robbery it showcases the state of the blitzed city, and invites us to reflect on the work and money that went into rebuilding by an exhausted and bankrupt people. Given the scale of the job I find it amazing that so much was accomplished even by the end of the century.
Of course, the post war period was a time of acute housing shortage. The most heavily bombed areas were also the most densely populated, and along with returning members of the armed forces this put pressure on the remaining stock. "The Lavender Hill Mob" shows the two main characters each having rooms in a lodging house (or 'private hotel') which is shared by several people. This is how they meet and formulate the robbery. This gives us a peep at how some single men of the lower middle class lived then. I wonder how much of this situation was due to the housing shortage, and how much was due to these men never having learned to look after themselves? It would have been assumed in their upbringing that there would always be a female in their life to see to domestic matters. Neither of these characters are married so they have placed themselves in the care of a landlady. In modern times, they would most likely live alone in a small flat each (if not even still be at home with parents!) I wonder how our more lonely housing habits lead to less in the way of collaborations in several areas of life - from crime to business?