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One of the best from the Ealing studios. I watched the film after
reading two volumes from Sir Alec's autobiographical diaries. This is
British cinema at its best. Now that there are attempts at reviving the
Ealing studios again, one hopes that at least some of the magic seen in
this film will be recaptured.
Alec Guinness' performance is a tour de force. There are many touted as being great actors today, but very few of them can pull of playing eight different types of people in the same film. Entirely convincing as an old woman, a dyspeptic lord, a pleasant young man. Guinness was indeed a master. He had the knack of becoming the part he was playing, so that one forgot that one was watching Alec Guinness.
The plot is fairly straightforward and moves at the right pace, with never a boring moment. The camera work is similarly exact, with the gloom of London houses and the emptiness of old manors coming through quite well. Most of the film is shot indoors, and it is remarkable that the scenes are as one would imagine them to be.
Intelligence and genius rather than special effects and huge
Outstanding acting (Guiness, Price, Greenwood).
Awesome script and plot.
There is a finesse in this movie that leaves me breathless.
The British sense of humour.
I have seen it may be ten times and still marvel at its cleverness.
A must see - goes without saying.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is such a classic film, that I am compelled to
a small review to fill the astonishing current void in the annals of the
"Kind Hearts ... " is a tale of serial murder interwoven with English manners. The comedy is all the blacker because each ghastly crime is quaintly executed with a self-mocking delicacy.
The performances are exquisite - Joan Greenwood's darkly seductive Sibella makes audiences fully understand why the hero is led astray. The dialogue both aspires to poetry and is the very definition of wit. As with the plays of Wilde and Shaw, the comedy does not date. The film's structure is as Byzantine and elegant as the murders themselves.
The integrity of the drama almost causes us to miss the tour-de-force eight role performance of Alec Guiness forging a gem-like collection of bitter-sweet satires on the English character.
Historically, the film is one of the series of quality comedies emerging from the British Ealing Studios. However, in true character it is unlike all the others, possessing the one-off quality of genius. It appears to juggles irreconcilable contradictions. It is a comedy with an outrageous plot; yet the drama is compelling and credible. It is a stagey production, based on mannered dialogue; yet it is a genuine classic of pure cinematic.
This film is one of the few I can watch again and again - in the way I can listen repeatedly to musical perfection. It is chronically undervalued (except by all who have seen it) both in its country of origin and especially in the rest of the world.
David John Johnston
This is the rare movie that had me smiling all the way through. Alec Guiness and Dennis Price were equally great as the victims and the plotter respectively. Comedy doesn't get any better than this and the manner in which every move is made makes this the near perfect movie. It makes you wonder what is currently passed for clever would have been considered in the day of Kind Hearts and Coronets. As an Ealing Studio neophyte, I feel I have a lot of catching up to do and for those of you who want to get started at it, this is the perfect place. Wicked in every phase with the mannerly banter disguising the story's events, you have to appreciate the intelligence involved. My vote on IMDB gets a 10. Oh, and by the way, the ending is one of the best ever.
I thoroughly endorse the discernment of those commentators who draw
particular attention to the performance, in this diabolically urbane comedy,
of Dennis Price, so often ignored in our wonder at the Guinness eight-part
tour de force. Sir (not then, but later!) Alec pulls off a masterly stunt,
but Price sustains an immaculate, imperturbable through-performance that is
the making of the film; a particular kind of actorly security is required to
bring off this kind of suave irony. The Longfellow parody is defining: we
see the Suffragette Guinness beginning a balloon-ascent in favour of Votes
for Women; cut to Price, kneeling by an apartment window, drawing a
Price: (voice over) "I shot an arrow into the air."
Cut to an airsick Suffragette in the basket of a balloon in trouble.
Voice over: "She fell to earth in Berkely Square."
The infallible Miles Malleson and coolly regal Valerie Hobson also deserve mention; of the delicious Joan Greenwood I hardly dare to speak, lest the tremble in my voice betray me.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is prove that an old film can appeal to youngsters. I'm a teenager and I loved it! Dennis Price plays a man forced out of his inheritance by his rich and arrogant relatives and sets about murdering them whom are all played by Alec Guinness, until he is in line to inherit the fortune. This is stiff upper lipped Ealing comedy in all its glory and a superbly witty script with several twists to it make for a wonderfully enjoyable hour and a half. Price is excellent, as the calm, would be heir, but its Guinness who you'll remember in an early screen, putting on a spiffing show in all 7 roles. A true British classic in every way that deserves appreciation from today's generation.
Sitting in his cell with an 8am death sentence awaiting him, Louis
Mazzini decides to write his story to last after he is gone. His story
starts with his mother marrying outside of her class by going with an
Italian singer (who dies on Louis' birth). With her money all gone, Mrs
Mazzini decides to appeal to her relatives in the D'Ascoyne family
who reject her without reply. With her birthright denied she schools
her son in her family tree in the hope that he will someday gain his
inheritance. When she dies suddenly, her only wish is to be buried in
the family plot a wish that is denied, enraging Louis. Selecting the
living members of the D'Ascoyne family, Louis decides to kill them one
by one in revenge.
It is a shame that this film has slowly started to be lost to modern audiences and is not as highly regarded by younger viewers as it is by older ones (look at the voting history for IMDb not proof but an indication). The reason for this in my mind is that this is not a rip-roaringly hilarious comedy that will have you rolling in the aisles but one that is dark, clever and wonderfully droll. The script is dripping in humour but it is the drip of bile and blood a very cruel humour that is as deadly as an assassin. The plot is pretty simple and it's main thrust works very well. The only bum note is Louis' relationship with Sibella, which serves to slow the film down a little bit and take away from the slick pace that it manages to have for most of it's scenes. For audiences who expect a comedy to have them laughing every 30 seconds, this film will be an enigma where are the laughs they will shout, where is the comedy? It is likely that those that would say this would be unlikely to come to such an 'old' film but it is sad that they will likely not have the patience to see the beauty in the film. To me the humour of the film seeps from every pore it is in the droll dialogue and in the absurdities of the characters.
Of course this film would not have been so good were it not for two fantastic performances from two actors who totally 'got' the film's sense of humour and deliver their characters absolutely spot on to make the humour work. Although he is naturally overlooked in favour of his co-star, Price is great (and also plays more than one character). He has to carry the less showy side of the film (ie his plot with Sibella) but his delivery is great both in performance and in his droll narration. He could have played it up for laughs but, as I say, he understood the humour and delivered accordingly. Guinness is simply brilliant. Some of his roles are very small (the Admiral for example) and others are rather ordinary but others are wonderfully absurd and he delivers them perfectly. His Parson is my favourite character as he is the most obviously absurd and enjoyable. His delivery of them all is great very different characters even if most of them do look unmistakably like Guinness himself.
Overall this is a marvelously classy film that will still be a great film no matter how much the tastes of a modern audience plummet below the patience that the film requires to enjoy it. The script is darkly humorous dripping in dark humour throughout (albeit with few actual laugh-out-loud moments). The two leads are wonderful and their performances show a real understanding of the film's aims. It is sad that this is not shown more on television a fact that may be due to the use of the n-word several times in the final 10 minutes rather than anything else.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is funnier in concept than in execution. I can
think of things from it and laugh at the idea but thinking of the
scenes doesn't make me laugh. It leaves me confused. I found the movie
a bit slow and boring. Perhaps I need to know more about England,
literature and class systems to properly appreciate it. Some humour may
have gone over my head. But good comedy should transcend barriers, it
should speak to every keen audience member. And it should fire on all
cylinders if possible. This Is Spinal Tap has funny dialogue, sight
gags, a mockumentary style, funny gestures and facial expressions,
everything. But this movie seems to depend almost solely on words with
only a handful of visual gags.
Alec Guinness doesn't get to do a whole lot. Mostly he wears various costumes and sits and talks like an old man or says nothing at all. It's an acting job that many would be capable of. Why not make better use of him? Dennis Price is too plain and calm for my liking. I found this to make him forgettable and uninteresting. He doesn't seem to feel anything. I get that there is subtlety but then it should be witty or ironic the whole way through. The problem is that half of the lines aren't funny at all and we're left with too many dull moments. There is no drama or romance to speak of so why not go all the way with the comedy? It's confusing. I spent scenes trying to find the humour and couldn't. What are those scenes there for?
A handful of parts were hilarious. Price puts gasoline in a photographer's camera. Eventually the photographer goes off to develop the film. We hear an off-screen "boom" and then smoke slowly rises in the distance. The characters barely notice but eventually Price goes to investigate. "Needless to say, it was too late." One character he wishes to execute is in jail. So he helps petition for her release. He expresses his gladness when another one of his targets dies. He somewhat liked them and is now relieved from the duty of murdering them. A captain of a ship confuses the sea terms for left and right and gives instructions that lead to an easily avoidable crash with another ship. Both sink and everyone comfortably survives except for the captain - he stubbornly chooses to go down with his ship. The image of him saluting as he goes down is hysterical.
I can see what Kind Hearts and Coronets is trying to do. But that's the problem - I should love this movie. I love sarcasm and irony and subtle wit and juxtaposition. The idea of a gentleman planning the vaguely justified murder of a series of rich relatives (played by one actor) and then running into numerous little difficulties is appealing. But this movie feels a bit too slow and pretentious for my liking. It presumes our attention rather than working for it. Not all of the jokes are great and I think most could be done more effectively. Too many scenes are unnecessary and waste time. They don't build tension or develop important plot points.
I definitely need to give this another viewing at some later date, perhaps after becoming more familiar with Ealing movies and British humour in general. But I also have to trust my current judgement and say that aside from an overall mildly amusing undercurrent and some laugh out loud moments, Kind Hearts and Coronets is quite plain and underwhelming.
...from the studio who brought you THE LADYKILLERS. KIND HEARTS AND
CORONETS is an even more inventive piece in which a man obsessed with
his family history decides to kill off rival members of his extended
family in order to claim the inheritance for himself. This is a
crisply-shot period piece that benefits hugely from a
blacker-than-black performance from Dennis Price as the ice cold
murderer working his way through a large list.
Despite the grim subject matter, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS is never less than funny, and there's plenty of original material here too. It's best remembered today for featuring numerous performances from Alec Guinness playing no less than eight members of the same family (females too). Guinness is clearly having a ball and the resultant film is a lot of fun to watch, although tame by modern standards. Watch out for a few familiar faces lower in the cast list: a delightfully dry Miles Malleson, plus Hugh Griffiths; Valerie Hobson (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) is the love interest.
One of the things I noticed on my first watch of Robert Hamer's Kind
Hearts and Coronets (from the studio that later brought you The
Ladykillers), is that it aims and achieves for much more than it could
have. This could have been just a silly comedy about an ambitious man
trying to reach his way to the top of the Duke-dom - specifically with
the D'Ascoyne family, all played by Alec Guinness by the way - and it
might have some edge to it but would be more about the funny make-up
and outfits that Guinness puts on. But what makes it more is that there
is a real film here, and attention is paid to supporting characters -
especially the women, and another man named Lionel who will prove to be
a big part of the plot - and it has the underlying air of a film noir:
a criminal, the dames in his life, and narration leading the viewer
along on the way.
At the same time, Kind Hearts is a raucous satire of the upper class and nobility, and what it means to have privilege and status in society. Dennis Price plays Louis as a man who is nearly always with the utmost, upright character. He may be half Italian and half the son of an Italian singer (who, as we learn, dropped dead of a heart attack before he really knew him), but everything in his actions as he goes one by one in killing most of the D'Ascoynes is that of a complete gentlemen. If he wasn't so fervent about rising to the top in his calculating and homicidal manner, he might make for a great (if strict) teacher of manners for school-boys... which is part of the point: this is a society that prides manners, good speaking, poise, fashionable dress, and even Price's accent is just right. If he had the bad luck of being raised Cockney, he'd never make it through the front door of the Duke's home.
Guinness is a performer-genius, and this is one of the films that shows that with riotous effect. Some of the characters may not even get much screen time, like the Admiral who goes down with the ship by going Port instead of Starbord (not one of Louis' victims, but what a way to go), or the Lady D'Ascoyne, who meets maybe the funniest end as she flies over the people promoting Women's rights in a hot air balloon (it shouldn't be funny, promoting women's rights, but when it's Guinness in a dress waving to the public, I'm sorry, I lost it). Maybe my favorite of his creations is the religious man, The Parson, who is one of the older figures, slow and yet loving to ramble and drag things along about the D'Ascoyne legacy in the church he works at, and watch as he is under no impression of fakery listening to Louis reciting some obscure language. Guinness may not look like it, but he's having the time of his life with these roles, going so far as to change his height when necessary, and it's surprising to see what he'll show up as next.
In the more straightforward part of the story, this too is solid and goes along with the satirical part, if a little more leaning towards a conventional story. There's the two women in his life - one of them, a D'Ascoyne wife (soon to be ex), is actually admirable and attractive to Louis. It's interesting to see how our (anti)hero sees other people and actually does have respect for them (the one member of the family who dies of stroke he admits "glad" to have not had to kill), perhaps because they share the same upstanding manner of him, or have a sense of dignity in his warped perspective. Hobson is Edith, the (ex)D'Ascoyne, and is a pleasure to see on screen opposite Louis. The other woman is one who fancies him more than he does her, Sibella (Greenwood), maybe more of the 'femme fatale' of the story. She may have some level of dignity, but it's below Louis' standards, whatever those they may be. How she comes around at the end, however, is one of the more clever twists in all movies. I mean, ever.
So much of Kind Hearts and Coronets is based upon the droll manner that becomes English society, specifically the 'noble' class, or even those who may be closer to "working" like the Photographer who imbibes in secret in his development room. In some ways this would make a good double feature with Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, also about a murderous character we grow to kinda love while also about class, but perhaps an even better comparison is with The Rules of the Game by Renoir. Deep down this is cunning, savage work on how for centuries the British have seen themselves, and I have to think this could only be done, at least this way, from the UK. We all know Royalty gets it way too good, they're up at the top, so a movie like this is practically necessary - a beautiful, cynical, and a dastardly tonic for everyone not of royalty, and right after WW2 to boot (though, who knows, maybe they love it as well, if only in secret).
A lot of this is funny, but even if it's not it's captivating stuff. Even the "Villain Monologue" trope is not only acceptable but riveting.
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