Jun 28, 2014

Review: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Kind Hearts and Coronets is funny even before it begins. Alec Guinness famously plays eight royal family characters to hilarious effect. Initially, he was only offered four out of the eight D'Ascoynes but thought that if he was already doing four, why not just do them all? Guinness doesn't drop the ball (has he ever?) on this opportunity and he's practically the biggest reason to see KHaC.

Guinness is in fact not the only reason to see this British classic. Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of the purest black comedy films I've ever seen. You'll have the taste of metal on your tongue for how ironic it really is and there's no shortage of laughs. Kind Hearts also pushed the envelope as to what was acceptable on film at the time and even warranted a scene to be added to the end of the film courtesy of the Hays Office Production Code. (Spoilers) After all, we can't have a film that appears to reward criminals right? Right? (End Spoilers)


Genre: comedy, crime
Directed by: Robert Hamer
Produced by: Michael Balcon, Michael Relph
Written by: Robert Hamer, John Dighton
Music by: Ernest Irving
Running time: 106 minutes
Production company: Ealing Studios
Distributed by: General Film Distributors, Eagle-Lion Films, Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont, etc.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood, Alec Guinness, Audrey Fildes, Miles Malleson, Clive Morton, John Penrose, Cecil Ramage, Hugh Griffith, John Salew, Eric Messiter, Lyn Evans, Barbara Leake, Peggy Ann Clifford




Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) sits in a prison cell awaiting his death which is scheduled for the next day. He is writing a memoir of his life which recounts all of which led up to his current situation. He reveals that his mother was a member of the D'Ascoyne family before she was cut off because of her decision to elope and marry a man not of a royal bloodline. As a result, her life as well as Louis' wasn't very easy, mostly because of monetary reasons. Following the death of Louis' mother, he decided to embark on a bloody quest for revenge and take his rightful place.


Credit has to be given to Guinness for his great portrayal of the eight royal family members in the D'Ascoyne family. The D'Asgoynes are basically a caricature of their ilk and Alec just kills it. They all sit on the highest of horses except for the boring fool of the family Henry D'Ascoyne who was sent into priesthood. Their deaths are amusing and Ascoyne D'Ascoyne sticks out as a name among names.

As good as Guinness is, I still think that Dennis Price is the real star of the film and he is the protagonist anyhow. He has the benefit of some absolutely stellar material to work with though. He delivers sharp quip after sharp quip with absolute deadpan grace. While incredibly funny, Dennis Price also gets to show  just how dark Louis Mazzini really is in a couple of scenes and he gets it just right. It's really just a great performance.

For a movie made in 1949, Kind Hearts and Coronets has aged incredibly well. OK, so there's a little bit of blatant racism in a certain scene but this is the forties after all you know. The two main female characters are not bit roles and represent significant points of interest for Louis Mazzini and the story as a whole. The court scene is maybe not as exciting as it could be, but that's really the only criticism that I can actually offer.

KHaC hardly ever lets up in trying to make the viewer laugh. Some of the deaths are a little implausible, but who really cares? The whole film is just perfectly funny. With wonderful performances and irony coming out of the wazoo, Kind Hearts and Coronets delivers on its promise as one of the best British films ever made.



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