I do love a good dark comedy, and it doesn’t get much better than the British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949). Directed by Robert Hamer, this delightfully wicked tale takes place in England, and tells the story of the D’Ascoyne family in flashback by Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), the tenth Duke of Chalfont. Mazzini is writing his memoirs while he sits in prison the night before he is to be hanged.
Going back in time, we see that Mazzini’s mother ran away to be married to an aspiring singer, but at the cost of disownment from her aristocratic family. After her husband’s early death, she tries to reconcile with her estranged family, but to no avail. Years later, on her deathbed, she begs her now grown son to ask for her burial in the family vault, but again her extended family wants nothing to do with her, even in death.
Louis vows revenge, and since he is still distantly in line to become Duke of Chalfont, he decides to murder everyone that is standing in his way. All eight of the characters that stand between him and his title are played by Alec Guinness (both men and women), giving this film a hilarious added touch, as well as showcasing Guinness’s extreme talent for playing different roles. As Louis slowly moves on with his plan, he becomes torn between two women. On one hand he has his childhood love, Sibella (Joan Greenwood), who ignored his proposals when he was a poor clerk, but has been having an ongoing affair with him for years. And on the other hand he has the widow of his second murder victim, Edith (Valerie Hobson), who although lacks the attraction and flare that Sibella possesses, Edith certainly would make an upstanding wife to a future Duke.
This amusingly strange and offbeat story keeps you smiling from beginning to end. It seems so wrong to enjoy a man completely filled with evil, but it is impossible to contain the laughter as we watch misguided but determined Louis find new and creative ways to dispose of his relatives.
Alec Guinness is at his absolute best. For a brilliant actor who is so often remembered for his dramatic roles, it is extremely exciting to see a film where his sense of humor can take over. His scenes steal the film, especially while playing the suffragette female.
Dark comedies aren’t for everyone, but “Kind Hearts and Coronets” certainly stands out as one of the most entertaining of this era. If you are going to watch this film, the original British version is superior to the American version that had to be edited in order to meet the demands of the Hays Code. This film is one of those perfect examples of why the Production Code didn’t work. The original version flows more smoothly and is more entertaining because the filmmakers were able to piece this story together in a more realistic and artistic manner.Back to Home for More Reviews