Ladies Who Do (1963)

“The bourgeois and the proletariat blood will mingle in the Charing Cross Road before they get rid of us.”

Ladies Who Do is a wonderful British black and white classic comedy which features some of the era’s best-loved stars. This is a good-natured tale of the underdogs who fight back against corporate growth and gentrification.  

The film’s heroine is the formidable Peggy Mount who plays practical-minded char woman/office cleaner, Mrs. Cragg. Mrs. Cragg works in the offices of developer, James Ryder (Steptoe and Son‘s Harry H. Corbett), a slippery, insincere character whose accents shifts according to his company. Ryder’s flashy lifestyle, which covers his upbringing in the slums, has almost bankrupted him, but he still maintains a posh office, a large staff, and a flash car. Ryder and his business partner are desperate to seal a new deal that involves the purchase of the homes on Pitt Street. Ryder plans to demolish the homes and then construct new office buildings in their place.

The trouble begins when Mrs. Cragg inadvertently transports a stock market tip  from Ryder’s office to her other employer, Colonel Whitforth (Robert Morley). Using Mrs. Cragg’s information, Whitforth subsequently makes a large sum of money, but Mrs. Cragg’s working class sensibilities cannot accept the idea that the stock market is an honest mechanism. She intends to give Ryder her share of the profit, but this plan, however, is abandoned when she discovers Ryder’s plans for Pitt Street. Mrs. Cragg lives on Pitt Street and has no intention of moving.

At this point, Mrs Cragg mobilizes her fellow char-women to unite against Ryder and his plans. He sees the residents’ refusal to sell as “a couple of old bags being difficult.” The consequences are hilarious and culminate on Pitt Street with various monkey-wrenching activities. Ryder, his workers and even the British police are no match for the cleaners–working class women who know just how to deal with the men who want to seize Pitt Street for their own ends.

Harry H. Corbett is perfectly cast as the slightly slimy, conniving (but not devious enough) Ryder. He meets his match in the charwomen, and of course the underlying message is that these women are invisible to their employers and so they can get away with a great deal more than the average person. The charwomen are hilarious and include Miriam Karlin as Mrs Higgins–a woman who’s tired of waiting for the Revolution, gormless Mrs. Merryweather (played by Dandy Nichols from Till Death Do Us Part), and nervous Emily Parish (Avril Elgar) who lives with her elderly mother. Elderly Mrs. Parish becomes a useful tool in the Battle for Pitt Street. Fans of British classic comedy, don’t miss this one. From director C.M. Pennington-Richards

Quotes:

“Would you close in a bit brothers. We have a spy on the outskirts of our little community.” (Workmen)

Take more than a bulldozer to put that old battleax under the ground.” (Ryder talking about Mrs. Parish)

“What do they want a teabreak for? They haven’t done anything yet.” (Ryder about workmen)

“Oh she loved the Blitz. She was very happy when the bombs were falling. She’d look out the window and shake her fist.” (Emily Parish discussing her mother to Ryder)

“You couldn’t have a derogatory effect on her heart if you ran her over with a bulldozer.” (Ryder talking about Mrs. Parish.

“I’ll have them out of there before you can say bulldozer.” (Ryder)

“You know the British workman. Loses every battle except the last.”

“What’s legal can’t be dishonest.”

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