Set in Victorian England, Robert Hamer's 1949 masterpiece Kind Hearts and Coronets remains the most gracefully mordant of the Ealing comedies. Dennis Price plays Louis D'Ascoyne, the would-be Duke of Chalfont whose mother ... more »was spurned by her noble family for marrying an Italian singer for love. Louis resolves to avenge his mother by murdering the relatives ahead of him in line for the dukedom, all of whom are played by Alec Guinness. Guinness's virtuoso performances have been justly celebrated, ranging from a youthful D'Ascoyne with a priggish wife to a brace of doomed uncles and one aunt. Miles Malleson is a splendid doggerel-spouting hangman, while Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood take advantage of unusually strong female roles. But the great joy of Kind Hearts and Coronets is the way in which its appallingly black subject matter (considered beyond the pale by many critics at the time) is conveyed in such elegantly ironic turns of phrase by Price's narrator/antihero. Serial murder has never been conducted with such exquisite manners and discreet charm. --David Stubbs« less
The fact that Alec Guinness gets to play the part of 8 different people, makes this movie hilarious! And shows what a great actor Guinness really is (for those of you still scratching your heads about this guy... he was Obi-Wan Kenobi on the original Star Wars... but in his younger years he was a great British comedic actor)
The ending plot twist is quite ironic, and funny. Overall I enjoy this film. As long as you don't take the murders too seriously. (For Parents: this is an old black and white so there is nothing graphic)
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Utterly delightful black comedy
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 07/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is most famous as the one in which Alec Guinness plays eight roles, but I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the film being characterized in that way, because it makes it sound as if the main attraction of the film is a gimmick. In fact, this is a first rate comedy in many ways. This was one in a series of great comedies produced by the Ealing Studios in the 1940s and 1950s. The film stars Dennis Price as the narrator, Louis Mazzini. He recounts his efforts to wreck revenge on the members of his mother's titled family who had disowned her when she married an Italian opera singer. His particular form of revenge consists of murder, and the film consists of his various efforts in this direction. Guinness, who in the course of his career managed to die in an astounding number of films, in this one manages to die eight times. He is excellent in each and every incarnation of a member of the D'Ascoyne family. Valerie Hobson is as elegant as always in playing the widow of one his victims with whom he later becomes romantically involved. Hobson was a great light of British cinema in the forties and early fifties, but gave up acting to marry politician John Profumo, who would be the principal public figure to fall in the Christine Keeler scandal. The film also features one of my all time favorite actresses, Joan Greenwood, who may have possessed the most delicious voice of any female in the history of film. Mention must also be made of Miles Malleson, who has a small but memorable role as the hangman.The makers of the film manage a perfect concoction of highbrow wit that still managed to border on the absurd. For instance, at one point Mr. Mazzini informs a victim that he will first kill him and then run screaming for help, and then we manage to see him doing precisely that, running from the woods crying for assistance. There are many marvelous lines, many of them almost throwaways. As a fan of Samuel Johnson, I was delighted when Mazzini tells someone, "Dr. Johnson was right, as he always was . . . " In particular, I love the understated humor throughout the film. If this were a TV show instead of a film, I am certain that they would have dispensed of the laugh track. Before someone complains about the DVD not offering a widescreen option, I should point out that the original was a 35MM print in 1.37:1 ratio. In other words, this will of necessity be a full screen DVD, and there will never be a widescreen."
THE comic masterpiece.
Robert Moore | 10/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film belongs in my top ten list, and is my favourite comedy. Dennis Price is very much the center of this film as an angry and avenging "gentleman" with aspirations to kill his way to a Dukedom. Yet with such lines as "revenge is a dish best served cold", or "I shot an arrow in the air - she fell to earth in Berkeley Square!", we cannot help but laugh at his deadpan matter-of-factness in his flash-back narration. His motivations are based on the neglect of his mother by her family for marrying "beneath" her, and by the initial rejection of his proposal of marriage by the delicious Joan Greenwood as the somewat amoral Sibella. Alec Guiness plays the various victims with a brilliant feeling for each, and yet we can also see them as intentional caricature - particularly the Vicar. The plot then takes some unexpected twists and turns before a wonderful "oh-no!" ending. Finally, the script-writing is superb! Rarely is the English Language so well served in ANY film. Fortunately, they kept the original ambiguous ending, rather than the US release, where it was mandated that the film remove any doubts about his being brough to justice.
The film is black and white, and not DVD subtitled, but it is closed-captioned. In any case, for the US audience, the British accents (particularly Price's) are generally easy to follow. The DVD resolution, contrast and video noise levels are quite good. Sound is par for a 1950 release."
Black Comedy Heaven
R. Kobert | Miami, FL United States | 08/19/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I consider this one of the finest, most enjoyable films of all time, and probably the second best comedy of all time (only the great Dr. Strangelove can top it, I submit). This film simply defines black comedy -- that most delicious form of the genre -- and when considering the time of its creation, in the glum early cold war paranoiac late '40s, it must be considered a miracle of cinema. Told in the deadest of deadpan styles, with marvelous performances by Dennis Price and the immortal Alec Guiness (in 8 roles!), it continually horrifies while amusing, as all black comedy must. Time hasn't dimmed its luster one jot. If you haven't seen this gem, run -- don't walk -- to own it and enjoy it over and over again."
The Death of the D'Ascoyne clan...in many humorous ways.
Felix Felicis | Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry | 03/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Kind Hearts and Coronets", a rather odd title for one of the darkest and most gleefully perverse comedies ever made, in Britain or any other country. The title is a reference to a line by Tennyson, "Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood." Well, plenty of Norman blood is shed in this signature Ealing farce. I had not previously seen the film until the day the Criterion release came out, but I had heard a lot of positive about it and figured a blind buy would be worth it.
What a purchase! I never expected a film from 1949 to be so amoral and sexually charged. The movie opens in jail, with a hangman making the final preparations for the execution of the 10th Duke of Chalfont, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price). The remainder of the movie is told in flashback with Mazzini's narration - he tells us, quite detached from the events on screen, exactly how he came to be in such a precarious position.
Mazzini's mother, a member of the wealthy D'Ascoyne clan, ran off with an Italian opera singer and was barred from associating with her family again. On her deathbed, as a result of a tragic accident, she made a last request to be buried in the family plot - which was refused. In his anger, Mazzini vows revenge, and decides to murder all the remaining members of the D'Ascoyne clan one by one - which would also make him the next Duke of Chalfont. Throughout all this, there is also another running subplot involving his childhood friend Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood) and her equally intriguing scheming, and how they play off each other.
Did I mention this a comedy? It sounds so serious but it isn't, and since all the actors underplay the increasingly absurd situations, the subtle acting and the purposefully dry and detached but extremely funny narration make this a classic. The delicate language of the script is evident, as it is filled with deliciously biting one-liners (for example: "It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms."); a lot of the humor comes from the class structure at the time (1900 or so), as Mazzini outworldly gives all appearances of being a charming gentleman on his way up in the world when in reality he is a ruthless and efficient serial killer. Dennis Price is pitch-perfect; from the first few minutes he engages our sympathy and we are rooting for him to succeed in his quest, yet he also manages to convey a strong wickedness simultaneously. Without his throughly grounded performance, the film wouldn't work.
Speaking of great performances, I have yet to mention the best part: Sir Alec Guiness, by himself, plays the entire D'Ascoyne clan (yes, even the lone female, in one particularly hilarious killing on a hot air balloon for women's suffrage). It's an acting tour de force - with some makeup, a few wigs, and a different posture and accent he is able to conjure up a variety of silly and memorable characters. my particular favorite is Admiral Horatio D'Ascoyne; after making a terrible blunder in terms of the naval direction of his ship, he crashes it straight into another and both sink. All survive except him, we are told in the voiceover, since he stubbornly went down with the ship. The shot of Guiness saluting as he slowly sinks to death had me in tears.
In short, "Kind Hearts and Coronets" is a highly subversive, witty, and devious satire of class manners and murder - certainly the kind of sardonic and cynical British comedy classic that they rarely make anymore. Filled with uniformly excellent performances, a sly script, and many fascinating twists and turns (including the famously open ending), this DVD is highly recommended. The Criterion Collection edition includes a sterling new HD transfer 1.33:1, an informative full-length documentary on Ealing Studios (with a lot of time spent on "Kind Hearts"), and a great rare 70-minute interview with Alec Guiness, conducted after "Star Wars", in which he is relaxed and full of anecdotes (often very amusing). Buy it...now."
THE BEST BRITISH FILM EVER MADE
anonymous | United States | 09/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Comedies don't get any better than this. And there's nothing black about it. It's probably the most luminous film about revenge ever made. Alec Guinness is miraculous in his multi-faced role/s--see it and you'll understand what I'm talking about. Despite the cynicism that laces this film, it possesses a certain beauty that few British movies (or films from any country, for that matter) have. It's finnesse! This film treads on such dangerous territory that it could have been a disaster, if not for its impecable acting, writing, and visual qualities. The only other period piece from England that has stayed with me and satisfied me as much as this black-and-white gem is The Queen of Spades (1948), which has virtually vanished from the market although I hope that it too will eventually arrive on DVD. If you like to laugh, Kind Hearts is a treasure chest of surprises, shocks, and thrills that leave you completely...well, satisfied, as I said before. Few movies are as involving and thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end as this one. The term "must-see" has seldom been more appropriate. Really, do yourself a favor and enjoy!"