Classic Ealing comedy in which an embittered aristocrat sets out to murder the eight heirs that stand between him and succession to the family title. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) holds no love for the aristocratic family he counts as relations, the D'Ascoynes. The family cast his mother out when she decided to marry a 'commoner', Louis's father, and on her death refuse to allow her to be buried in the family vault. An outraged Louis vows revenge and begins working his way into the trust of the family to provide him with the opportunity to bump off the male heirs (all played by Alec Guinness) one by one. However, complications arise when he becomes romantically entangled with one of the widows of his victims, Edith D'Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson). Will Louis be able to stay the course and murder his way to a Dukedom?
Set in Victorian England, Robert Hamer's 1949 masterpiece Kind Hearts and Coronets
remains the most gracefully mordant of Ealing Comedies. Dennis Price plays Louis D'Ascoyne, the would-be Duke of Chalfont whose Mother was spurned by her noble family for marrying an Italian singer for love. Louis resolves to murder the several of his relatives ahead of him in line for the Dukedom, all of whom are played by Alec Guinness, in order to avenge his Mother--for, as Louis observes, " revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold". He gets away with it, only to be arraigned for the one murder of which he is innocent. Guinness' virtuoso performances have been justly celebrated, ranging as they do from a youthful D'Ascoyne concealing his enthusiasm for public houses from his priggish wife ("she has views on such places") to a brace of doomed uncles and one aunt, ranging from the doddery to the peppery. Miles Malleson is a splendid doggerel-spouting hangman, while Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood take advantage of unusually strong female roles. But the great joy of Kind Hearts and Coronets
is the way in which its appallingly black subject matter (considered beyond the pale by many critics at the time) is conveyed in such elegantly ironic turns of phrase by Dennis Price's narrator/anti-hero. Serial murder has never been conducted with such exquisite manners and discreet charm. --David Stubbs