43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2002
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This film belongs in my top ten list, and is my favourite comedy. Dennis Price is very much the center of this film as an angry and avenging "gentleman" with aspirations to kill his way to a Dukedom. Yet with such lines as "revenge is a dish best served cold", or "I shot an arrow in the air - she fell to earth in Berkeley Square!", we cannot help but laugh at his deadpan matter-of-factness in his flash-back narration. His motivations are based on the neglect of his mother by her family for marrying "beneath" her, and by the initial rejection of his proposal of marriage by the delicious Joan Greenwood as the somewat amoral Sibella. Alec Guiness plays the various victims with a brilliant feeling for each, and yet we can also see them as intentional caricature - particularly the Vicar. The plot then takes some unexpected twists and turns before a wonderful "oh-no!" ending. Finally, the script-writing is superb! Rarely is the English Language so well served in ANY film. Fortunately, they kept the original ambiguous ending, rather than the US release, where it was mandated that the film remove any doubts about his being brough to justice.
The film is black and white, and not DVD subtitled, but it is closed-captioned. In any case, for the US audience, the British accents (particularly Price's) are generally easy to follow. The DVD resolution, contrast and video noise levels are quite good. Sound is par for a 1950 release.
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
This film is most famous as the one in which Alec Guinness plays eight roles, but I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the film being characterized in that way, because it makes it sound as if the main attraction of the film is a gimmick. In fact, this is a first rate comedy in many ways. This was one in a series of great comedies produced by the Ealing Studios in the 1940s and 1950s.
The film stars Dennis Price as the narrator, Louis Mazzini. He recounts his efforts to wreck revenge on the members of his mother's titled family who had disowned her when she married an Italian opera singer. His particular form of revenge consists of murder, and the film consists of his various efforts in this direction. Guinness, who in the course of his career managed to die in an astounding number of films, in this one manages to die eight times. He is excellent in each and every incarnation of a member of the D'Ascoyne family. Valerie Hobson is as elegant as always in playing the widow of one his victims with whom he later becomes romantically involved. Hobson was a great light of British cinema in the forties and early fifties, but gave up acting to marry politician John Profumo, who would be the principal public figure to fall in the Christine Keeler scandal. The film also features one of my all time favorite actresses, Joan Greenwood, who may have possessed the most delicious voice of any female in the history of film. Mention must also be made of Miles Malleson, who has a small but memorable role as the hangman.
The makers of the film manage a perfect concoction of highbrow wit that still managed to border on the absurd. For instance, at one point Mr. Mazzini informs a victim that he will first kill him and then run screaming for help, and then we manage to see him doing precisely that, running from the woods crying for assistance. There are many marvelous lines, many of them almost throwaways. As a fan of Samuel Johnson, I was delighted when Mazzini tells someone, "Dr. Johnson was right, as he always was . . . " In particular, I love the understated humor throughout the film. If this were a TV show instead of a film, I am certain that they would have dispensed of the laugh track.
Before someone complains about the DVD not offering a widescreen option, I should point out that the original was a 35MM print in 1.37:1 ratio. In other words, this will of necessity be a full screen DVD, and there will never be a widescreen.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2002
I consider this one of the finest, most enjoyable films of all time, and probably the second best comedy of all time (only the great Dr. Strangelove can top it, I submit). This film simply defines black comedy -- that most delicious form of the genre -- and when considering the time of its creation, in the glum early cold war paranoiac late '40s, it must be considered a miracle of cinema. Told in the deadest of deadpan styles, with marvelous performances by Dennis Price and the immortal Alec Guiness (in 8 roles!), it continually horrifies while amusing, as all black comedy must. Time hasn't dimmed its luster one jot. If you haven't seen this gem, run -- don't walk -- to own it and enjoy it over and over again.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2006
"Kind Hearts and Coronets", a rather odd title for one of the darkest and most gleefully perverse comedies ever made, in Britain or any other country. The title is a reference to a line by Tennyson, "Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood." Well, plenty of Norman blood is shed in this signature Ealing farce. I had not previously seen the film until the day the Criterion release came out, but I had heard a lot of positive about it and figured a blind buy would be worth it.
What a purchase! I never expected a film from 1949 to be so amoral and sexually charged. The movie opens in jail, with a hangman making the final preparations for the execution of the 10th Duke of Chalfont, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price). The remainder of the movie is told in flashback with Mazzini's narration - he tells us, quite detached from the events on screen, exactly how he came to be in such a precarious position.
Mazzini's mother, a member of the wealthy D'Ascoyne clan, ran off with an Italian opera singer and was barred from associating with her family again. On her deathbed, as a result of a tragic accident, she made a last request to be buried in the family plot - which was refused. In his anger, Mazzini vows revenge, and decides to murder all the remaining members of the D'Ascoyne clan one by one - which would also make him the next Duke of Chalfont. Throughout all this, there is also another running subplot involving his childhood friend Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood) and her equally intriguing scheming, and how they play off each other.
Did I mention this a comedy? It sounds so serious but it isn't, and since all the actors underplay the increasingly absurd situations, the subtle acting and the purposefully dry and detached but extremely funny narration make this a classic. The delicate language of the script is evident, as it is filled with deliciously biting one-liners (for example: "It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms."); a lot of the humor comes from the class structure at the time (1900 or so), as Mazzini outworldly gives all appearances of being a charming gentleman on his way up in the world when in reality he is a ruthless and efficient serial killer. Dennis Price is pitch-perfect; from the first few minutes he engages our sympathy and we are rooting for him to succeed in his quest, yet he also manages to convey a strong wickedness simultaneously. Without his throughly grounded performance, the film wouldn't work.
Speaking of great performances, I have yet to mention the best part: Sir Alec Guiness, by himself, plays the entire D'Ascoyne clan (yes, even the lone female, in one particularly hilarious killing on a hot air balloon for women's suffrage). It's an acting tour de force - with some makeup, a few wigs, and a different posture and accent he is able to conjure up a variety of silly and memorable characters. my particular favorite is Admiral Horatio D'Ascoyne; after making a terrible blunder in terms of the naval direction of his ship, he crashes it straight into another and both sink. All survive except him, we are told in the voiceover, since he stubbornly went down with the ship. The shot of Guiness saluting as he slowly sinks to death had me in tears.
In short, "Kind Hearts and Coronets" is a highly subversive, witty, and devious satire of class manners and murder - certainly the kind of sardonic and cynical British comedy classic that they rarely make anymore. Filled with uniformly excellent performances, a sly script, and many fascinating twists and turns (including the famously open ending), this DVD is highly recommended. The Criterion Collection edition includes a sterling new HD transfer 1.33:1, an informative full-length documentary on Ealing Studios (with a lot of time spent on "Kind Hearts"), and a great rare 70-minute interview with Alec Guiness, conducted after "Star Wars", in which he is relaxed and full of anecdotes (often very amusing). Buy it...now.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2002
I will not repeat the excellent plot synopsis of Mr.Stubbs, and I agree completely with the highly positive reviews found in this site by people who appreciate this truly classic comedy.
Over the years, there have been a number of films which have treated the subject of murder in a humourous way--but "Kind Hearts and Coronets " set the standard.
Dennis Price is perfectly cast as the "upwardly mobile" young man trying to attain what he considers to be his rightful inheritance through eliminating members of a noble family who are "in the way". This is a difficult role because he is an unscrupulous snob--yet quickly has our sympathy. We are soon cheering for him to eradicate a ( mostly ) unpleasant family.
Alec Guinness, playing the various doomed family members, is absolutely brilliant--even clever make-up and costumes do not disguise the fact that we have a genius at work here.
Like a number of Ealing comedies, "Kind Hearts" has a very nice "twist" at the end--a great finish to a memorable movie.
The DVD captures the black and white image very well--for a 53-year old film, this is nice.
For collectors of classic comedy, this DVD is a "must".
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2002
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
A hysterical story, in an understated British way, of Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, son of a ducal daughter who married beneath her (an Italian opera singer). As both he and his mother have been shunned by the D'Ascoynes at every turn, he forms the idea, after her death, of killing the eight D'Ascoynes (all played by Alec Guinness) who stand between him and the dukedom. The cool way he goes about this process of elimination brings the great delight to the movie.
Alec Guinness's eight roles (including a woman) are greatly amusing; he also plays an ancestor seen only in a portrait! Dennis Price also plays multiple roles--he plays Louis and also his father, who drops dead on first sight of his newborn face. Joan Greenwood, who plays the somewhat villianous Sibella, is also delightful.
Look also for a delightful small performance by Miles Malleson as Mr. Elliott, the hangman, who in the opening scene, looks in at Mazzini in the condemned cell, and focuses intently on his neck!
If you enjoy the straightfaced British sense of humor, you'll love this one.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 1999
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
The Ealing Studios "British Little Comedies" have rarely been equalled -- certainly never surpassed -- for elegance, stylishness, and wicked black humor. And this is perhaps the finest of them. The eight roles of Sir Alec Guiness are varied and delightful -- many have cited the wonderful scene where Price, posing as the Bishop of Matabililand, polishes off the Reverend Henry D'Ascoyne, who, as he raises the poisoned port to his lips, delivers the wonderful line, "May I say, my Lord, you have brought me something I could not expect from any other churchman in England." A constant delight also is Price's delicious narration. When one of his "disposals" also removes the victim's paramour, he says "I was sorry about the girl, but could console myself with the knowledge that during the weekend she most certainly had already succumbed to a fate worse than death." (Or something like that!) One could go on and on citing the evilly funny moments As he takes tea on the lawn with one victim's wife, behind her we hear a muffled "Pffooff!" as the victim's darkroom explodes into flame. Price reacts with just a slight pause and movement of his eyes-- and goes right on taking tea as the smoke billows higher with each cross-cut. In short, this film is not funny in a belly-laugh sense, but in a more intellectual, subtle way. Like a fine wine, you don't gulp it -- you sip and savor it. Exquisite!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2002
No need to add much to the comments above and below about this excellent post-war (1949) British black comedy, so I'll restrict myself to the DVD.
This is a good transfer of a film which is now well over 50 years old. Criterion might have got more out of it, but this release wouldn't do that company any shame.
Damage is virtually non-existent, contrast is excellent and the image very sharp. There is an occasional hint of grain, but this is a much better DVD transfer than I was expecting on such an inexpensive disc. Just check out the trailer which is almost indiscernible image-wise to show what a good job they have done.
The sound is mono and sounds a little thin at first but Dennis Price's beautiful narration is clear and the ear soon adjusts.
All in all, a very good DVD release.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
Guinness is in top form playing all seven family members (male and female!) who must be assassinated before the cunning protagonist can assume a title. This is a little jewel of a film, often overlooked these days. I think it even better than "The Lavender Hill Mob." Joan Greenwood is wonderfully distinct as always. This black comedy is full of wild wit, as when one of Guiness' incarnations is shot down while throwing suffragette leaflets from a hot air balloon: "I fired an arrow in the air, she fell to earth in Barclay Square!" Superb fun.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
This film is considered one of the top British films of the last century. As for Americans, some love this film and some don't - some say it moves too slowly, and some think it predictable. For me, this is one of those I can watch over and over again without tiring. Visually, the work is a classic example of the beauty of black and white film. Image after image is memorable. The script is hilariously understated British humor. The story, simple and well-acted, not only by the incomparable Alec Guinness (as each one of his relatives) but also by every other member of the superb cast. Wish they still made them like this!