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Kind Hearts & Coronets

"My west window has all the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily,
any of the more concomitant crudities of his period."
- Canon D'Ascoyne

Picture from Focus On Film - Autumn 1972

Only one man stands in the way of Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini’s becoming the tenth Duke of Chalfont. Unfortunately for Louis, that man is Alec Guinness, which is to say the eight different members of the D’Ascoyne family whom Guinness portrays in this brightly heartless black comedy. Louis, however, does not shrink from the task: vowing to revenge the ill-treatment meted out to his mother by her D’Ascoyne relations following her socially-unacceptable marriage, this draper’s assistant and would-be peer embarks on what he proudly acknowledges to be “the most sensational criminal endeavor of the century.” And one by one the D’Ascoynes fall: the playboy, the vicar, the unruly suffragette, the ship’s captain, the general, the nerdy boozer, the banker, the present Duke himself. Will this most meticulous killer, adhering strictly to “the discreet requirements of 20th-century homicide,” get away with (multiple) murder? Dennis Price, as Louis Mazzini, is the quintessence of cold-blooded, snobbish self-advancement, and Alec Guinness’s eight D’Ascoyne turns are gems of subtly-played comedy. A supremely elegant example of the sophisticated movies once made by England’s Ealing Studios.

From The Common Reader

Directed by Robert Hamer, 1949

Coming on the heels of GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST, this was the film that made Alec Guinness an international star. Although Dennis Price has the largest single role in the picture (and plays it beautifully), Guinness took the lion's share of the credit for its success with a tour de force performance as no less than eight characters, all members of the same family. A black comedy about mass murder, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS is one of the British film industry's funniest movies, as well as one of the most memorable and notorious.

The action is set around 1900. Price is in line to a dukedom, but is treated as a pariah because of his mother's unfortunate marriage. Seething with class resentment, he decides to remove all the obstacles in his way. While conducting an affair with the married Greenwood, he begins knocking off his relatives in various fanciful ways. Matters are complicated when he falls in love with Hobson, the widow of one of his victims. But after Price ascends to the dukedom and marries Hobson, fate catches up: he's arrested for a murder he did not commit.

The film is full of bright dialogue and quotable quotes ("Revenge is the dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold!"). Robert Hamer (who also directed) and John Dighton loosely based the story on Roy Horniman's turn-of-the-century novel Israel Rank, dispensing with all but the core of the book to write the sharp screenplay. The result, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, is one of those films that can be seen repeatedly and still offer surprises. As a combination of rollicking black humor and satirical pokes at the English upper crust, nothing else comes close.

From TV Guide Movie Database

Country of origin: U.K.
Genre: Comedy
Color or b/w: Black & white
Production Co(s).: Ealing
Released by: General Films
MPAA rating: NR
Parental rating: Acceptable for children
Running time: 105

Dennis Price - Louis Mazzini
Valerie Hobson - Edith D'Ascoyne
Joan Greenwood - Sibella
Alec Guinness - Duke/Banker/ Parson etc.
Audrey FildesMama
Miles MallesonThe Hangman
Clive MortonPrison Governor
John PenroseLionel
Cecil RamageCrown Counsel
Hugh GriffithLord High Steward
Producer: Michael Balcon
Director: Robert Hamer
Writer: Robert Hamer, John Dighton (based on a novel by Roy Horniman)
Cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: Peter Tanner
Music Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ("Don Giovanni")
Art Director: William Kellner