Herbert Lom (1917-2012)

Film4 showed The Ladykillers on Tuesday this week. Mark Duguid writes on BFI Online:

“It’s virtually impossible today to think of Ealing Studios without adding the word ‘comedy’. Even more than half a century after the curtains closed on the classic production outfit, Ealing comedy is one of British cinema’s most powerful brands, its only serious rivals for lasting fame being Hammer’s horrors or the James Bond or Carry On series. It’s hard to believe, then, that the cycle that brought those two words together embraced fewer than ten films and under nine years – from the release of Hue and Cry (d. Charles Crichton) in February 1947 to December 1955, when The Ladykillers (d. Alexander Mackendrick) first hit cinemas…”

Herbert Lom introduced ‘The Ladykillers’ at the National Film Theatre on 5th March, 1994, and an interview with him appeared in The Independent the day before. He said:

“I must say that The Ladykillers is one of the few films I’m not ashamed to be associated with. It’s a perfect little movie. I was appearing on stage in The King and I, in my second year, and was desperately looking for something to get away from playing the King eight times a week, so I accepted an offer from the producer Michael Balcon to do The Ladykillers.

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.”

From Wikipedia:

Lom was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru in Prague to Karl Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru, and Olga Gottlieb, who was of Jewish ancestry. Lom claimed that his family had been ennobled and that the family title dated from 1601.

His film debut was in the Czech film Žena pod křížem (“A Woman Under Cross”, 1937) followed by the Boží mlýny (“Mills of God”, 1938). His early film appearances were mainly supporting roles, with the occasional top billing. At this time he also changed his surname to Lom (“breakage” or “quarry” in Czech), because it was the shortest he found in a local telephone directory.

Due to German hostilities and the possibility of an invasion of Czechoslovakia, Lom moved to Britain in January 1939.”

Brian Viner interviewed Lom at the end of 2004:

“He was born in 1917, the son of a genteelly impoverished count, whose title dated from 1601. He studied acting in Prague but thought there would be more opportunity in England, so, having left his parents and sister behind, he arrived in London where he auditioned, at the Embassy School of Acting, for the principal, Eileen Thorndike, sister of the fêted actress Sybil Thorndike. “I auditioned in Czech,” he recalls. “She couldn’t understand a word. But I was admitted anyway.”

There then came an offer to join the company at the Old Vic, but the War had started, and he had another job offer: to join the BBC’s Czech and German section, as an announcer. “I didn’t know which to take, so I wrote to a friend, asking him to cable me with his advice. I was sitting in the bath when the landlady knocked and said, ‘There’s a gentleman to see you, Mr Lom.’ It was a policeman holding a telegram. He said, ‘Can you explain this, sir?’ I looked at the telegram and it said simply: TAKE BBC. It was simple career advice from my friend, but the police thought it must be something terribly sinister.”

We both have a good chuckle about this. Then he grows serious again, recalling the pain of not knowing how his parents, back in Prague, were faring under the Nazi occupation; especially as there were Jewish antecedents on his mother’s side. As it turned out, his folks survived the War and he later brought them to England. “They heard my voice almost every evening, on the radio.” He remembers his announcements: “Tonight there are 20,000 Allied aeroplanes over Dresden.”

The day after the War ended, Lom became a British citizen…”.

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