THE STORY OF THE EALING COMEDIES could have been an Ealing comedy—one day an obscure British studio suddenly found it possessed a magical gift for droll, character-rich comedies. The gift lasted less than a decade, but set a standard for British comedy—and made a star (and future Jedi) out of a chameleon named Alec Guinness.

The Lavender Hill Mob—Guinness gives a marvelous comic portrait of British boringness, as a security guard who figures his utter lack of personality will be the perfect cover for a heist.

The Ladykillers—Guinness (above) and gang disastrously use a clueless old landlady as cover, in the most gleeful black comedy of the 50s.

The Man in the White Suit—Thought-provoking comic fable in which scientist Guinness invents an indestructible fabric, and naively thinks humanity (in particular, the local mill owners) will be grateful.

Passport To Pimlico—Cold War satire in which a London neighborhood finds a medieval document making it part of France—and secedes. True fact: Mike Myers wanted to remake it as a Wayne’s World sequel.

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