Last Thursday we did something we've been talking about for years. An outdoor cinema night, or deckchair cinema as we called it, inspired by Darwin's Deckchair Cinema in Australia. For the first time in living memory we had the summer weather, with zero chance of rain, an excellent location, the smoky drift of barbecue food and our long-forsaken inflatable screen which we just managed to fit into the space at the end of the garden thanks to some last minute pruning.
The film we choose to show was Alexander Mackendrick's evergreen Ealing classic The Ladykillers. Having set up the screen we just had to wait for it to get dark enough to see what we were projecting. For awhile, in the evening sunshine it was hard to believe any image was coming out of the projector but eventually as the first hints of dusk entered the sky we could see it in the palms of our hands.
A half hour later and we were ready to go, people arrived with their deckchairs, candles lit up the garden path and hung in the hedges, insects skittered around us in the dark and the film began. Soon everyone was engrossed in the story. Five criminals, led by smooth-talking but sinister Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness) rent a room in the subsiding cul-de-sac home of dotty old widow Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), posing as a string quintet while in reality planning a bank heist in which she is to play a central if unwitting part.
Watching it for the first time in the communal dark rather than on television what struck home most strongly apart from the faultless performances, set-design and locations, was the cinematography of Otto Heller, an inky-noir colour that adds Gothic menace to proceedings, and the supreme performance of Katie Johnson as Mrs Wilberforce, the blissfully zen centre of the action. Screenwriter Charlie Rose gives her little moments of poignant reminiscence, surrounds her with a cadre of even-dottier old dears, meandering, bird-like ninnies who, by comparison, show her to be a sweetly resourceful and oddly admirable lady living in a twilight state of widowed forgetfulness with her dead husband's parrots. It's a little miracle of a performance and the talk was of little else afterwards.