Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

This British comedy is a royal gem.

Much is made of Alec Guinness playing seven different members of the same aristocratic family, including a woman.

But Kind Hearts and Coronets is also an absorbing look at revenge, greed, manipulation and unexpected fate.

Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) vows revenge when his mother is shunned by her family, the d'Ascoynes, for marrying an Italian. He dies when Louis is born. She scrapes by, taking in a boarder to make ends meet, and meets an early death when she is struck by a bus.

Mazzini plots to kill the eight d'Ascoynes who stand between him and the dukedom. Fate helps with some of their demises. The admiral makes a not-too-bright navigational move to speed up his death. Poison, explosives, a bow and arrow and a gun are some of the ways Mazzini pops off his kin.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is a very funny comedy, but there's a definite dramatic element between Louis and his childhood love, Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood). He wants to marry her. She opts for another childhood chum, Lionel Holland (John Penrose), who is coming into cash a lot sooner than Louis. It's Sibella, the woman he loves most who proves to be his toughest opponent. Louis is interested in Edith (Valerie Hobson), the widow of one of the d'Ascoynes he dispatched. Here's a woman with real character, but Louis is more interested in using her to advance his scheme.

The laughs in this great film are mostly subdued, with observations including "Even potential dukes have to eat," when Mama (Audrey Fields) rents out a room to earn money to Lionel noting his "impersonation of a man with sterling character."

Guinness is great fun to watch as he plays each d'Ascoyne, including Lady Agatha, a suffragette who assumes her leadership role with great gusto. For Star Wars fans, it's fun to hear Guinness' parson note, "The port's with you." George Lucas' landmark science-fiction film was nearly 30 years away.

Kind Hearts and Coronets ends with a great twist, a fantastic final touch on a very, very good film.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Director Robert Hamer helmed The Haunted Mirror segment of the horror anthology, Dead of Night, released in 1945.

Greenwood was Guinness' love interest in The Man in the White Suit.

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