Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets; black comedy, UK, 1949; D: Robert Hamer, S: Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Audrey Fildes

Awaiting his death sentence in prison, Louis Mazzini writes down his memoirs: his mother was a potential heir to the rich and noble D'Ascoynes family, but when she married a poor Italian man, she was dishonored. Louis thus grew up poor, seeking revenge on the D'Ascoynes family and aiming for the inheritance which he thought belongs to him. He had an affair with Sibella, the wife of alcoholic Lionel. Louis started killing the eight heirs of the D'Ascoynes family one by one, until he was the last heir in line, and thus inherited everything. He also fell in love with Edith, the widow of one of the D'Ascoynes members he killed. However, Louis was arrested when Lionel was found dead, and he was the main suspect. Sibella offers him an exchange: she killed her lover, and now Louis must kill his, Edith. Lionel's suicide note is thus found and Louis is freed - but his memoirs stayed in prison.

One of the most hyped classic of the British cinema, black comedy "Kind Hearts and Coronets" holds up indeed very well, though some superlatives attributed to it are a tad exaggerated. The cynical story in which a seemingly cultured man, Louis, climbs up the hierarchy of inheritance by killing off eight family members who are in front of line, is remarkably elegant, witty and has almost a codified choice of words which give it an opulent rhythm, a sense of a movie poem of its own (as Louis is about to shoot the balloon with Lady Agatha in it, he narrates: "I shot an arrow in the air, she fell to earth in Berkley Square."; when he is about to flatter Sibella, he says: "I'd say that you were the perfect combination of imperfections."; the line: "While I never admired Edith as much as when I was with Sibella, I never longed for Sibella as much as when I was with Edith."). The storyline is also full of neat little twists, whereas the stand-out in the cast is the brilliant Alec Guinness in an octuple performance as eight members of the D'Ascoynes family, ranging from the young Henry, through the old Vicar up to Lady Agatha. Some ideas with which Louis kills the eight members are also quite inventive, such as the one where he kills Henry, a fan of photographic processing, by putting gasoline in the photography development liquid in his darkroom. However, the movie takes quite a long time to get fully going, whereas it is not universal, since a lot of those fine phrases are lost in translation outside the English language speaking world. A further point has to be detracted from it due to the overlong finale, which drags, though it has a neat ending which cements its overall very good impression.


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