Title: Kind Hearts and Coronets
Release Date: June 13, 1949
Director: Robert Hamer
Production Company: Ealing Studios
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a dry and satirical British comedy from Ealing Studios, among the earliest of a string of “Ealing Comedies” that include classics like The Ladykillers and often starred Alec Guinness. Set around 1900, the story focuses on Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price) whose mother (Audrey Fildes) was disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying his father (also Price), an Italian singer. In revenge for their ill-treatment of his mother, Louis decides to murder every member of the D’Ascoyne family who is ahead of him in inheriting the title of Duke of Chalfont.
The so-absurd-it’s-wonderful twist is that Alec Guinness plays all the members of the D’Ascoyne family, 9 characters in all, of different ages and genders. The amazing thing is that Guinness’ chameleon-like talent allows him to portray all these different characters without much in the way of make-up or costuming.
In addition to Guinness, the cast includes Joan Greenwood as Sibella, Louis’ childhood friend who turns down his marriage proposal due to his initial poor prospects, but later becomes his mistress. Valerie Hobson portrays Edith, the widow of one of Louis’ murder victims whom he marries in order to have a properly elite bride. There are a lot of good comical twists to the story, especially a stunner at the finale. And keeping with British tradition, there’s also a lot of variety and creativity in how the murders are carried out.
These days, the British aristocracy is an open target for mockery, but I wonder if in 1949 there was still some level of deference that would’ve made this movie more shocking. Deference to aristocracy is certainly a target for satire right at the start when a comical hangman seeks to learn how to properly address his illustrious victim.